The Sketch: How I learnt to stop worrying and love the Government's retirement plans

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The Independent Online

Every month in recent times, Work and Pensions questions asks the most important question there is. Am I dying? That's the question I end up with.

What's happening to me? I used to grovel with rage on the subject of pensions. Now, the bench monkeys at the despatch box are still giving us the same self-serving, self-exculpating, life-denying rubbish, but when I try to writhe on the floor frothing I can't summon the vitality to fall off my seat.

We've got a new minister. Here he is, the third since the spring. The last one brokered the single most disgraceful political deal with the unions in recent times (even in my condition I can feel a tickle of life) and promptly left the job. Now we have nice, clever John Hutton.

We don't want someone nice and clever. We want David Blunkett back, someone to make us want to fling dung.

Does Mr Hutton have any plans to revisit this deal that allows public sector workers to retire at 60 while the rest of us will be kept working until 67? (Not that it will be 67, it'll be 77 after three more governments like this.)

Who knows? He won't say, definitively. When he is cornered like this, Mr Hutton points his finger bonily, and looks down it at the Tories, like a witch-finder. It's his least attractive trick. Perhaps he'll develop some others in his time in office. He better be quick.

The ongoing argument. The Tories "condemned" pensioners to living on £67 a week. Now under this Government, pensioners get £109 a week. A 63 per cent increase!

That's what used to make me drool with incontinent anger. What's the difference, frankly, between these two contemptible sums of money? The state takes our money for an insurance fund but spends the money on buying our votes, and gives back a fraction of what it took.

"Two million pensioners have been lifted out of poverty," they keep saying, for all the world as if they weren't responsible for putting them there in the first place.

Peter Lilley said that the Prime Minister had wanted to build on his plan called Basic Pension Plus but couldn't because he'd attacked it during the 1997 election. Could the minister "make sure in future that pension reform is not based on party political considerations?'' This caused loud and genuine laughter.

David Taylor, whose ancestral, well-meaning leftiness is probably more to blame for the current state of affairs than anything else, asked the most elegant question of the day, and I am sufficiently degraded to reproduce it affectionately.

"There are 66 words in the Lord's Prayer and 42 laws of cricket. By contrast, there are 967 pages of housing benefit regulations with five parts, six schedules and 40 statutory instruments," he said.

Death is the only solution to the pensions crisis. No wonder Work and Pensions questions makes us feel like dying. We're just being helpful.