- Chancellor rightly focuses on jobs and increasing infrastructure spending to boost growth.
- Great to see Lifetime Skills Guarantee and Restart programmes to help for older unemployed workers – as state pension age rises.
- Green projects and social housing should use UK pension assets instead of more borrowing.
The Autumn Statement sets out the depth of the economic emergency we are facing and the Chancellor is right to ensure that we focus on preserving and creating jobs, increasing infrastructure, improving environmental and climate-friendly investing and ensuring all regions of the country benefit from new projects.
Older workers are important to all our futures: I am delighted to see that the Government has adopted the Lifetime Skills Guarantee and will introduce the £2.9billion Restart programmes, to provide extra support for over one million older people who are unemployed, as well as boosting apprenticeship schemes. Unemployment among older age groups has risen sharply during the pandemic and this compounds the problems of ageist attitudes faced by people in their late 50s and in their 60s. Employers tend to overlook the skills of older workers and, once they become unemployed, most face much greater difficulty finding a new job than younger workers. It is also true that some older people have inadequate skills for many of the modern workplace requirements and that is why the new Restart Programme is welcome, particularly if it concentrates on the needs of those whose skills are out of date. If these individuals are excluded from the labour market, their experience and talents will be lost to the labour force, they will be poorer for the rest of their lives and that poses a risk to growth for all of us.
As pension ages rise, helping older workers into employment is increasingly important: Given that many older workers – most especially women – have no private pension, the fact that State Pension Age has risen significantly means those who lose their jobs face dire financial problems. If they have some savings, they may have to use that money and have little or no access to State benefits. This money, which they may have expected would be available to them for retirement, will have gone and those who live on out of work benefits will struggle. They need particular help to get back into work and I hope they will not be overlooked by the Restart programmes.
Pension funds could help support the £100billion capital and infrastructure projects: The Chancellor announces dramatic rises in public spending including projects such as £58billion for local roads and other transport infrastructure. Also, capital funding for addressing climate change and a green industrial revolution. The proposals include additional Government borrowing and attracting overseas investment, but why not use money that is already in the UK searching for good long-term investments? Local authority pension schemes have around £300billion in assets and private sector pension schemes have hundreds of billions more. I urge the Chancellor to harness the power of these domestic long-term assets, which can boost UK growth as well as delivering better and much-needed long-term returns to UK pension funds.
Pensions could be productive domestic assets rather than ever-rising long-term liabilities: As we look to recover from the pandemic and build back better, pension funds are an almost untapped source of funding for social housing, infrastructure and environmental projects. Their assets have been targeted towards low or negative return bonds, which mean lower potential pensions.