Pension age: Ministers to speed up rise to 66

Nick Clegg: "We are reinvigorating what retirement means"

The government is to speed up plans to raise the state pension age for men to 66, possibly by as early as 2016.

Ministers will also raise the option of extending it further, perhaps to 70 and beyond in the following decades.

The default retirement age of 65 - at which workers can be legally axed by employers - is also set to be axed.

Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith said it was time to "reinvigorate the pensions landscape".

Under the plans women will move to a state pension age of 66 a few years after men.

'Talent and enthusiasm'

The coalition team running pensions policy - Conservative Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith and Liberal Democrat pensions minister Steve Webb - announced the proposals at a briefing in London.

Mr Duncan Smith said: "Britain used to have a pensions system to be proud of, but due to years of neglect and inaction we are left with fewer people saving into a pension every year and the value of the state pension has been eroded, leaving millions in poverty.

"We must live up to our responsibility to reinvigorate the pension landscape.

"People are living longer and healthier lives than ever, and the last thing we want is to lose their talent and enthusiasm from the workplace due to an arbitrary age limit.

Labour's Yvette Cooper said raising the pension age sooner was unfair on people nearing retirement

"We also need to recognise that to meet the challenge of providing an affordable, stable pensions system in a society with ever increasing life expectancy, people will need to work longer."

The previous Labour government's policy was to raise the pension age to 66 in 2024 and then gradually to 68 by 2046.

The coalition argues that this should be speeded up, eventually meaning a pension age of 70 or older.

The government also wants to scrap the default retirement age - which allows employers to shed staff at the age of 65.

Adam Marshall, director of policy at the British Chambers of Commerce, said such a policy would damage "businesses' ability to manage their workforce".

'Days of Dickens'

He urged the coalition instead to raise the default retirement age or "offer employers a new dismissal route that helps business manage their workforce, regardless of age".

For Labour, shadow work and pensions secretary Yvette Cooper accused the government of "moving the goalposts" for people in the fifties, leaving them thousands of pounds worse off.

People in Cardiff give their opinions on the changes to the age of retirement

She added: "This is unfair for a group of people who haven't got time to change their plans."

Bob Crow, general secretary of the Rail Maritime and Transport union, said: "As well as hitting pay, living standards, public services and jobs, the latest assault from the government is work until you drop.

"If you are a rich banker with a private pension you can sail off on your yacht at 55, but for working men and women retirement will be pushed further and further over the horizon in a step back to the days of Dickens. That is not sharing the pain, it is hitting the poorest hardest yet again."

'Unacceptable'

UK life expectancy is currently 77 years for men and 81 for women.

Paul Kenny, general secretary of the GMB union, said: "The government knows that manual workers in the industrial regions of the UK do not enjoy anything like the same life expectancy as professionals or other classes or employees.

"To force someone who has done a lifetime of toil on building sites, farms or in factories to work until they are 66 is completely unacceptable."

In Tuesday's Budget the government announced that, from April 2011, the state pension would go up by the increase in average earnings, or in line with prices, or by 2.5% - whichever is highest.

Previously it would go up every April by 2.5%, or the level of the Retail Prices Index the previous September.

This had been considered as unfair by some, as prices had lagged behind average earnings.

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