We need to end this whirlwind of uncertainty
Ordinary people are being forced to cope with huge financial turmoil as the government goes through a number of massive policy upheavals.
Our Chief Executive, Carole Easton, outlines her concerns about how we can possibly plan for the future in the midst of such alarming uncertainty.
We live in uncertain times. And of late, it feels like that uncertainty has been ratcheted up all the way to the top of the dial.
This week’s intervention by the new Chancellor was designed to provide more certainty to reassure the markets. But for many people, it has created even greater uncertainty. Take for example the triple lock – the government guarantee to ensure that pensions rise with inflation.
With current escalating inflation and a cost-of-living crisis, certainty on this issue would at least give older people an opportunity to budget for the difficult months ahead. Last week, Alex Burghart MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Pensions and Growth, responded to a written question on the issue by saying 'The government has committed to implementing the triple lock in the usual way for 2023/24 and the remainder of the Parliament.'
Certainty you might think for the time being at least. But on Monday, the significant overhaul of the mini-budget threw that all into doubt again with the new Chancellor refusing to commit to restating the triple lock. He said: 'I’m very aware of how many vulnerable pensioners there are and the importance of the triple lock, but as I said earlier, I’m not making any commitments on any individual policy areas, but every decision we take, will be taken through the prism of what matters most, to the most vulnerable.'
With no clear decision in sight, and doubtless weeks more of speculation around whether the triple lock will or won’t return in April, older people are left with increased uncertainty, stress, anxiety and impacted health and wellbeing.
In this current whirlwind of uncertainty, coups and constant crisis management, there is a real concern that the long-term vision for this country is being lost.
In September, the Prime Minister appeared to provide certainty around energy costs which had been a cause of stress and anxiety for many people over recent months as wholesale prices soared. The energy price guarantee would ensure a fixed cost of energy for the next two years. Granted it would mean a doubling in costs from last winter and many older people would end up paying considerably more than the £2,500 average but the guarantee offered at least some sense of security and stabilisation.
That was until this week when the Chancellor announced that the energy price guarantee would only run as a universal support for all homes until April, at which time it would be replaced by more targeted support without giving any further indication about who may be eligible. As of now, no one has any idea what their energy bill will look like in the spring or even if they will have enough money to cover the costs. The government must move very quickly to clarify how much support will be available after April, how many people can expect to receive further support and how much people should expect to be paying.
The fact that there is so little certainty about the short-term future makes it almost impossible to say with anything more reliable than a soothsayers’ prediction what will happen in 20 or 30 years’ time. And yet it's part of the role of government to think on that scale and work to make life better for people in the longer term. In this current whirlwind of uncertainty, coups and constant crisis management, there's a real concern that the long-term vision for this country is being lost.
This vital and important work needs to be part of an ongoing discourse with the electorate. Our society is changing significantly. The Census 2021 tells us that the proportion of people aged 65 and older in England and Wales is at a record high. By 2040, nearly one in seven people is projected to be aged over 75; the number of people aged 85 years will almost double by 2045. The problems facing many of the current older generation are desperate at this moment in time. But without proper planning and forward thinking, those problems will snowball in years to come as the proportion of our population in older age grows.
How will we ensure that growing numbers of us moving into later life can age well? That we have the right homes and services to meet the needs of this shifting demographic? How will we ensure that the right jobs are there for a growing population of older workers to continue working until their retirement so they can enjoy a good standard of retirement and not one of penury and scrimping? How will we plan to meet our Net Zero commitments?
What age will retirement even be for any of us? Again, this is a question that needs certainty and a long-term vision and yet feels as much in flux as anything else. The state pension age is currently 66 for both men and women but is projected to rise to 67 between 2026 and 2028, and again to 68 between 2044 and 2046. But a review to be published next year could mean that the raising of the state pension age to 68 could be brought forward to 2037-39. And experts are already talking about the need to raise the age to 69. How can anyone plan for their retirement future amidst so many unknowns?
For all these decisions, we need long-term planning that can be enacted over years and to be ready in place as the need arrives. Whether that is on the macro scale of the country’s infrastructure or on the level of each person drawing up their retirement and savings plans. All of this requires certainty and long-term vision which seem completely at odds with the times we’re living through currently.