68 is too late!

Unite joins forces with National Pensioners' Convention and Scottish Pensioners' Forum to oppose state pension age rises with London demo

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Unite has joined forces with the National Pensioners’ Convention (NPC) and the Scottish Pensioners’ Forum (SPF) to launch a campaign to demand that the government rules out any further increases to the state pension age.

In the first of many demonstrations, Unite, NPC and SPF activists mobilised outside Parliament alongside Labour MPs on Tuesday (May 2) to send a loud and clear message that ’68 is too late’.  

They later marched to the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) head office to deliver a petition which garnered nearly 40,000 signatures in a matter of weeks.

The demonstration and wider campaign were launched in reaction to the government recently announcing that it will delay its decision on raising the state pension age again until after the next election. The government had plans to bring forward the state pension age rise to 68, potentially as soon as 2037.

Instead of simply delaying the decision – in a cynical bid to stop a defeat at the next general election — Unite, NPC and SPF are calling on the government to unequivocally rule out state pension age rises altogether.

Speaking to UniteLive at the demonstration, Unite national officer for retired members Caren Evans (pictured below) said, “The government needs to make it absolutely clear that they will abandon their plans to increase the state pension age and not just postpone it – this is what we’re fighting for.”

Caren explained why this was such a vital issue.

 “By the time most people are in their early 60s, their health starts to deteriorate,” she said. “They’ve been paying into their pension for years and years and years – and this government just wants people to work until they drop. It’s not right.”

National Pensioners’ Convention general secretary Jan Shortt (pictured below) agreed.

“This is an equality issue because there are parts of the country – where there are high levels of poverty and poor wages – where people will die before they turn 67; that’s before they retire. That’s the reality,” she told UniteLive.

Indeed, research has shown that while the wealthiest can expect their good health to continue until they are 70, the poorest can only expect their good health to last until they are 52.

Life expectancy is no longer rising steadily and healthy life expectancy is well below the state pension age. The average healthy life expectancy for men in England is 63.1 years; for women it is 63.8 years.

Jan called on the government to ‘sit round the table’ to have a national conversation about the future of pensions.

“We’ve got 2.1m pensioners living in poverty – and that figure is steadily rising, as pensioners struggle with the cost of living,” she said. “We’ve got failing health and care services. These failures are all the fault of the government and their policy decisions, so it’s up to them to do something about it.”

UniteLive also spoke to Tony O’Brien, 75, of Unite’s retired members executive committee (pictured below).

Tony, who used to work in the construction sector, said he was incensed about the way the government has treated working people in this country.

“If you spend your whole life working in construction, you’re totally worn out by the time you’re 60,” he said. “It’s absolutely outrageous what they’ve done to WASPI (Women Against State Pension Inequality) women when they equalised the state pension age for women so suddenly. The value of the UK state pension is also an absolute disgrace. Now with the cost of living crisis, what are we supposed to live on?”

Tony said that it was vital that everyone, whether retired, approaching retirement or still early on in employment to join together to fight for a better deal for pensioners.

“Those who are still working, they too will eventually need to retire – younger workers have more debt than ever before,” he said. “Many of the private sector pension schemes have been run down or have gone completely. Everyone is in dire straits – we’ve got to learn from the French and need to join together in big numbers.”

Eileen Cawley (pictured below) of the Scottish Pensioners’ Forum said her organisation was thrilled to be working with Unite on the ’68 is Too Late’ campaign and to have come to the demo to show their solidarity.

“We all need to work together because there is strength in numbers,” she told UniteLive. “People might think that because they live in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland that everything is different but it’s not. These are reserved matters and affect us all equally. We have to fight cuts to our welfare state and challenge Westminster at every turn.”

Eileen said it was also vital that more young people get involved in the campaign against state pension rises.

She recounted how she gave a radio interview earlier in the morning, and how immediately the radio programme tried to pit younger people against older people.

“This is their typical angle – that our interests are somehow mutually exclusive,” Eileen said. “Pensioners today don’t actually have to campaign on the state pension age any longer because they’ve got their pension – they’re doing it for the younger generations. And the younger generations are beginning to understand this as we work together more closely. Our fight is their fight.”

Unite organiser Joe Rollin hailed Tuesday’s demo.

“We’re thrilled by how many people have turned out to support us,” he said. “We’re also really pleased that we garnered nearly 40,000 signatures for our petition in only four weeks.”

Joe highlighted that the DWP commented in response to the campaign, saying that they’ll give people plenty of notice if the government decides to increase the state pension age.

“That’s not very reassuring at all,” Joe said. “That’s why we’ll be meeting to discuss our next steps. This is only the beginning of our campaign.”

By Hajera Blagg

Pics by Mark Thomas