SPA reports 'still under consideration', says Trott; govt review expected in May

Work and Pensions Committee (WPC) chair, Stephen Timms, has raised concerns that the government is “keeping the evidence hidden” by delaying the publication of the state pension age review reports ahead of the government's review, expected in May 2023.

Timms previously wrote to the minister to ask the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to publish the reports from the Government Actuary’s Department (GAD) and independent reviewer Neville-Rolfe “immediately”, to enable it to “effectively scrutinise the government’s own review when that is published”.

Timms also pointed out that this would be in line with practice for the first review of the state pension age, when the reports by the independent reviewer and the Government Actuary were both published on 23 March 2017, in advance of DWP’s own review on 19 July 2017.

In her response however, Trott confirmed that while work on the review is “well underway”, the reports are "still under consideration", with the DWP therefore planning to publish the report “no later than the government’s report”, which is expected to be published by May 2023.

She stated: “We are of course considering the full range of evidence to reach decisions that are robust, transparent and provide fairness to both taxpayers and future pensioners.  

“This includes the evidence from the Government Actuary’s report and the independent report led by Baroness Neville-Rolfe.

“We are planning to publish both the Government Actuary’s report and the independent report no later than the government’s report. Although this is a different publication schedule to the last review, the issues are still under consideration and so we think this approach is more appropriate."

However, Timms also raised concerns around the later publication of the state pension age reports in a Backbench Business debate yesterday (1 February), highlighting it as “a flagrant example of [Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Mel Stride’s] predecessor’s bad habits of hiding analysis and evidence until it is convenient to the government to release them”.

He stated: “Instead of publishing the evidence four months before the government’s decision, as was done in 2017…the department is keeping the evidence hidden until it makes its announcement ‘early in 2023’.”

Also commenting in response to Trott’s letter and explanation for the delay, Timms added: “They appear to be saying, ‘We don’t want anyone to see the evidence until we have made up our mind. This is still under consideration, so we think it is not appropriate to publish the evidence.’

“Surely, there ought to be a public debate about all this before the government make their decision, not afterwards. This instinct of hiding things, not disclosing them, and not complying with the requirements of the cross-government protocol is very damaging to the government’s ability to make good policy.”

Timms also confirmed that the WPC had agreed “months ago” that it would take evidence from the Baroness Neville-Rolfe’s once her review had been published and before the government announced their decision, clarifying however, that “now that the government are unwilling to publish the analysis before they announce their decision, we clearly cannot do that”.

He continued: “These are important public policy questions. They should be debated in parliament and among the public before the government announce their decision, so that that public and parliamentary debate can inform the government’s decision.

"We should not just see the evidence after the government have announced what they plan to do, because changing the government’s mind at that point will not happen.

“A wide public debate should take place now, but it cannot happen unless the independent review and the Government Actuary’s report are published before the announcement is made. I ask the minister to resist the temptation to keep the documents hidden for even longer and instead to remember the wise words of David Cameron, and to be open and publish those two key documents.”

Commenting in response to the concerns raised during the debate, Trott again confirmed that both documents will be published "in full", explaining: “On the timing of publication, there is work going on in government to undertake the review. Once it is finished the documents will be published.

More broadly, Trott also addressed concerns around the changes in life expectancy, acknowledging that the most recent projections from the Office for National Statistics show a slower rate of improvement in life expectancy than those that informed the Pensions Act 2014 and the Pension Schemes Act 2017.

“Nevertheless,” she clarified, “despite the slower improvement rate, ONS projections continue to show increasing life expectancy over time, and the number of people over state pension age is expected to continue to rise.”

She continued: “Alongside examining the implications of the latest life expectancy data, the government review is assessing the costs of an ageing society and future state pension expenditure, as well as considering labour market changes and people’s ability and opportunities to work up to state pension age, bearing in mind recent trends in life expectancy.

“The review will aim to keep the right balance between affordability, sustainability and fairness between generations. The review has not yet concluded—it is very important to emphasise that, given some of the comments today—and I will not pre-empt its outcome.

“The government are committed to ensuring that older people have dignity and security in later life, regardless of where in the UK they are living. The government take the setting of the state pension age very seriously. I look forward to being able to discuss this matter further—I am sure we will—when the government finally publish their second review.”

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