A freedom of information (FOI) request by New Model Adviser® has found Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) officials met with the Treasury to discuss state pension age on the day of the general election.
DWP officials met their Treasury counterparts 13 times to discuss state pension age in 2017, with another five meetings with representatives from No. 10.
One meeting with the Treasury was on 8 June, the day of the general election.
According to the FOI contact with the Treasury consisted of face-to-face meetings and meetings via ‘telekits’ (civil servant speak for a conference call) ‘where state pension age issues are likely to have been discussed’.
In March the ex-director general of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) John Cridland released his independent report on the SPA which called for it to rise from 67 to 68 between 2037 and 2039 – seven years earlier than currently planned.
The government was then due to respond to Cridland’s decision by 7 May. But following the snap election announcement, this was delayed. Four meetings between the Treasury and DWP were held in March, three just prior to the report's publication and one after it.
Five meetings have been held in 2017 between No 10 officials and DWP officials working on the review to discuss the SPA.
One of these meetings came just after the Cridland report, one just prior to the deadline for the government’s decision.
Two further meetings were held post-election (23 June and 13 July) after the point the government was legally required to release its decision.
Tom Selby, a senior analyst at AJ Bell, said the meetings show how political the decision was.
‘That is a lot of meetings over a very short period of time,’ he said. ‘This was clearly a hugely sensitive political issue even before a snap election was called. I suppose in a way you’d be more surprised if Treasury and No. 10 weren’t all over this.
‘From the Treasury’s point of view the concern would have been how much this was going to raise? While No. 10 would have been balancing the money raising/sustainability argument with not angering core Conservative voters.’
What does it mean?
The decision to raise SPA again, to move from 67 to 68 seven years earlier than planned, was kicked into the post-election long grass with the Conservatives perhaps not too keen on telling six million voters they were going to have work one year longer just days before they went to the polls.
It was the DWP who made the announcement but such colossal amounts of money were unlikely to have escaped the attention of the Treasury. The meeting held on the day of the election is most intriguing.
Could the Treasury have been thinking over possible options for the SPA depending on which party won? Labour’s policy was to freeze the SPA at 66.
The fact No.10’s officials were also meeting to discuss SPA after the election also suggests there was uncertainty over the decision even after the point when they were legally required to have announced it (7 May).
Perhaps May’s top aides were wondering if they had the support to announce another unpopular policy after the disappointing election result.
In the end, with Royal London estimating Labour’s plan to keep the SPA at 66 would cost the government £300 billion, it is easy to see why the Conservative government went ahead with Cridland’s recommendation.
So while it was left to the newly appointed work and pensions secretary David Gauke to announce the SPA hike, the decision was one which came right from the very top.