Lord Bichard: Retired people could do work for pensions

Lord Bichard Lord Bichard says fresh thinking is needed to help meet the cost of an ageing population

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Retired people could be encouraged to do community work such as caring for the "very old" or face losing some of their pension, a peer has suggested.

Lord Bichard, a former benefits chief, said "imaginative" ideas were needed to meet the cost of an ageing society.

And although such a move might be controversial, it would stop older people being a "burden on the state".

The peer is a member of a committee investigating demographic changes and their impact on public services.

The panel was told that the transfer of wealth from young to old in the UK was the highest in Europe.

Lord Bichard, a former head of the Benefits Agency and top civil servant at the Education Department, who is probably best known for chairing the 2004 inquiry into the Soham murders, said the debate on rising healthcare and pension costs needed to be broadened out.

"Are there ways in which we could use incentives to encourage older people, if not to be in full time work, to be making a contribution?," he asked the rest of the committee.

"It is quite possible, for example, to envisage a world where civil society is making a greater contribution to the care of the very old, and older people who are not very old could be making a useful contribution to civil society in that respect, if they were given some incentive or some recognition for doing so."

'Tuition fees'

The 65-year-old crossbench peer, who has taken on a number of roles including the vice presidency of the Local Government Association and the chairmanship of a national after-school film club since retiring from the civil service in 2001, suggested the government should use the pensions system to "incentivise" retired people.

Start Quote

The current generation are very heavy contributors to the public purse, whereas previous generations have benefited from the public purse”

End Quote Dr James Sefton Imperial College

"We are now prepared to say to people who are not looking for work, if you don't look for work you don't get benefits, so if you are old and you are not contributing in some way or another maybe there is some penalty attached to that."

He asked: "Are we using all of the incentives at our disposal to encourage older people not just to be a negative burden on the state but actually be a positive part of society?"

Prof Martin Weale, a member of the Bank of England Monetary Policy Committee, said the proposal was "outside the normal range of what is discussed", but added it was an "interesting point".

Asked about his suggestion after the meeting, Lord Bichard said it was a new idea but he intended to look into it further as part of his work for the committee.

He acknowledged it would be difficult for politicians to sell to the public, but added: "So was tuition fees."


Pensioners' rights campaigners reacted angrily to Lord Bichard's idea.

Dot Gibson, general secretary of the National Pensioners Convention, said: "This amounts to little more than national service for the over 60s and is absolutely outrageous.

"Those who have paid their national insurance contributions for 30 or more years are entitled to receive their state pension and there should be no attempt to put further barriers in their way."

Michelle Mitchell, director general of the charity Age UK, said: "Older people are a hugely positive part of society - over a third of people aged between 65 and 74 volunteer, a percentage that only drops slightly for the over 75s.

"In addition, nearly a million older people provide unpaid care to family or friends saving the state millions of pounds."

She added that almost a third of working age parents rely on grandparents to provide childcare - and more than 900,000 people are working past the traditional retirement age "either because they want to or because they can't afford to retire".

But she added: "We must not forget that retirement is a vastly different experience depending on your personal circumstances. For example, 40% of all people over 65 have a serious longstanding illness and 1.7m of our pensioners live in poverty.

"For many of those, retirement can be an unrelenting struggle of trying to survive on a low income in poor health."

Ros Altmann, director general of Saga, said: "This is a very strange idea indeed. Those who have retired have already made huge contributions to our society and are already the largest group of charity and community volunteers."


Prof James Sefton, of Imperial College, London, a former adviser to the Treasury, told the committee young people were effectively subsidising the older generation - and he could not understand why they were not protesting about it.

"I think they should be angry. I think the deal they are getting is poor," he told the peers.

"There are a lot of transfers going on within the system, from the young towards the old and I think awareness of it is very poor and I think eventually it will come out."

He said research he was carrying out at Imperial College, with Dr David McCarthy, suggested "the current generation are very heavy contributors to the public purse, whereas previous generations have benefited from the public purse".

This was mostly down to high house prices, high youth unemployment, rising public debt and the cost of education, added Prof Sefton, who is also a quantitative analyst at UBS bank.

The older generation benefits from public funds, in the form of healthcare and pensions, but younger people have to rely more on "private transfers" of wealth, such as family money, to a far greater extent than in other European countries, he added.

Update 26 October 2012: Lord Bichard has asked us to clarify that he was floating an idea at the committee rather than making a firm proposal. This report has been slightly amended to take account of that.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 1772.

    Perhaps Lord Richard may wish to look into the drain that unnecessary committees loaded with the unelected and priviliged and see how effective use they make of our tax revenues before referring to our pensioners as "burdens on the state".

  • rate this

    Comment number 1771.

    Having worked near fifty years, paying full dues. I don't agree to a proposal to 'encourage' myself and others of similar work history to 'continue til you drop'. Lord Bichard and his ilk, instead of spouting this line in 'blackmail' should donate a good proportion of their wealth to the good of the nation. Government 'suits' should be held accountable for mismanaging the workforce contributions.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1770.

    Many parents are on benefits because they cant afford the child care and their parents are busy still working! Where is the logic in that???? Free up our mature citizens so they can form stronger family bonds and help their families go to work and contribute morally and financially to society.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1769.

    "...young people were effectively subsidising the older generation... I think they should be angry"

    Young people should not be angry that banks wasted billions on casino banking. They should accept and finance that via higher taxes.
    But they should be angry when they are financing "older people" (their own parents)!

    Divide et impera!

  • rate this

    Comment number 1768.

    As many say here, lots of retired people choose to do voluntary work and should be respected for that. Voluntary work is, by its very name, voluntary - I think docking pensions if they choose not to is not acceptable. This is also leads to a 'what counts' and 'what doesn't count' system. Does looking after grandchildren count? Does cleaning the church count? etc Better the carrot than the stick.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1767.

    There are two words that come to mind and the second is "off".

    It's an outrageous suggestion. I've no argument with people who want to do voluntary work but the idea of cutting their pension is simply unbelievable. What planet is the man living on?

  • rate this

    Comment number 1766.

    Lord Bichard should be thrown out of the House of Lords and made to work to earn his living until he drops. What a daft comment to make with a large youth unemployment figure. At 65 you have earnt your right to make a choice whether you still want to work in some capacity and how many hours you want to work.Make life easier for OAP's - give them more pension instead of having to claim benefits

  • rate this

    Comment number 1765.

    I find this suggestion (and its implications) quite terrifying. Pass me the suicide pills please!

  • rate this

    Comment number 1764.

    What a load of nonsense!
    Every pensioner receiving a state pension has paid in to the scheme. This is NOT a benefit, the Government OWES this money to pensioners. Instead of spending the money on yobs who have never done a days work, the government should have invested the money and paid dividends to pensioners, just like any UK Pension Fund. I am looking forward to spending every £ on me!!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 1763.

    Perhaps it's all a bluff. They know they couldn't get away with it but it will stir up older generations (who often do turn out & vote) to take umbrage, & therefore be likely to support any measures to make benefits to younger people (who often don't vote) subject to doing 'volunteer' unpaid work. Turning one generation on the other as if the only choice was either them or us is BAD.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1762.

    May I suggest that all those with a pension from working as a "public servant" have their pensions reduced?

    Why? because they obviuosly don't need all of it; especially where it far exceeds the standard OAP that I have paid for with 50 years of contributions.

    While we are at it reduce all private pension payouts too - why should they be sacrosanct?

    This idea amounts to legalised THEFT.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1761.

    If your under 40, you should ignore the notion 'I have paid in all my life blah blah..."

    Society and demography are going to make that irrelevant. The population will be to top heavy, retirement will depend on personal wealth only. State pension? No chance. Unaffordable.

    Wake up and make your own provisions, or accept you will have to work forever. No magic wand will change demography.

  • Comment number 1760.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1759.

    Call me dumb, but Lord Bitchard (not a freudian slip) wants those who retire to look after the "very old". Well sir, with the retirement age increasing, and people looking to possibly retire in their 70's or 80's; if not older, at what age would you classify someone being "very old"? Also will the "very old" be entitled to a state pension?

  • rate this

    Comment number 1758.

    We have unemployment at 2Mill with a lot of good kids desperate for start in employment many of them graduates. Why can they not find work These crazy politicians advocate that Prisoners Benefit Claiments and now Pensioners, do the work for what they are entitled to. Lets not forget these jobs will be for PLC companies that with free labour. Executives can now increase their millionsin salary

  • rate this

    Comment number 1757.

    If the government has 'mismanaged' all the money we 'pensioners' have paid into our state pension fund so there is no money to pay us a decent pension, then maybe they should volunteer to work for us. If a company pension scheme failed in this way, they would have to answer for it. So where has our pension fund gone?

  • rate this

    Comment number 1756.

    Some folks wont be happy until there's civil unrest and we're all rioting in the streets.

    What is very odd though is that its the government and their cronies who are now actively pushing people towards taking a stand.

    Why are these idiots even making the news?

  • rate this

    Comment number 1755.


    "...Brown trashed the private sector pension system in 1997..."


    That really is scraping it.

    His actions were unhelpful, but the devastation of QE and 0% interest completely dwarfs and submerges their effects.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1754.

    When a sitting government minister Robatham , complains about veterans exercising their democratic rights, what do you expect?. The government has the attitude of "Not seeing, Not hearing Us". Pensioners are the latest target of the most divisive Government since Thatcher. When will the UK ever learn, NEVER VOTE TORY!. they revert to type quickly after election.Clegg hang your head.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1753.

    @497 Andy
    So, these people have worked all their lives, paid in all their lives, will retire at 70 (if they're lucky, chance are the age will rise again) and yet, this "Lord" thinks they should do more? Yeah that's a fantastic way to raise a debate.
    Engage brain before typing please Andy!


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