The man who has been guiding the Government on sweeping pension reforms has slammed this week’s public sector strike, saying there was no justification.
Speaking on a visit to the city to deliver the Birmingham Forward Roger Dickens Annual Lecture at the CBSO, Lord Hutton of Furness also called for energies to be focused on dealing with the problem of pension provision in a rapidly ageing society.
“I don’t believe there is any justification for a strike,” he said. “It will cause a massive amount of inconvenience.
"There is nothing good about this. There is a perfectly good offer on the table that will still see a perfectly good pension for the future.
“I would much prefer people to be talking about that rather than rhetoric about strikes and disruption to society.
“Strikes don’t make the problem of life expectancy go away. We have to have a debate about the costs. At the moment it is all being made by the taxpayer and that is not right or sustainable.”
He also called on all parties involved in the dispute over pension reforms to continue to negotiate, believing a more than fair offer has been made to public sector workers.
He said: “I’m not party to the negotiations but I think there is a very generous offer on the table – in many ways more generous than my report – and I think there is a deal to be done. I just hope the talking starts as soon as possible as that is the only way to resolve it.”
Lord Hutton’s Birmingham Forward lecture addressed the problems of Britain’s ageing society, something he feels has to be faced up to, even if difficult decisions have to be made.
“We have reached a point where we need to have a more general discussion about the impact of increasing life expectancy and the implications of becoming an ageing society,” he said.
“There is a sensible way forward but it does involve people making some hard choices and changing our assumptions about working life and the environment in which we live.”
As well as working later and being expected to pay more into the country’s pension pot, Lord Hutton believes society as a whole must also change.
“The challenge for the Government is what are the implications for the health and social care system, the labour market and housing. My speech in Birmingham highlighted some of these challenges.”
He added: “The pension system is most obviously experiencing the sharp end of the spear but you can see the implications coming through the social care system. How do we provide good quality care for rising number of old people who need it?”
Painting a grim picture of the situation we face now, Lord Hutton also warned it could get worse unless action is taken.
“The current system is broken and we can’t go on the way we care for the health needs of older people,” he said.
“We are going to need big changes in the health system, more support for people to remain independent in their own home and get away from the model of care that assumes when you get old you need to go into hospital.”
However he remains optimistic Britain is more than up to the challenges ahead, given the country’s history of innovation and problem solving.
“I think there is a huge challenge which is coming down the track for us but this is the nation which developed the welfare state and we can rise to the challenge but we have to think very carefully about it.”
He also believes it is a problem for society as a whole, rather than just the Government.
“At the moment we are not doing the thinking,” he said. “It is a big challenge for our society and our government. We really do need a big change in attitude. It’s a big problem for the private sector too and the charitable sector.”
Pointing to statistics at just what Britain’s rapidly ageing population will mean in real terms, Lord Hutton added: “There is a growing number of people aged over 100, by the end of the century it will be equivalent to the population of Birmingham – and that is a conservative estimate.”