WITH the pound continuing its descent to new lows and the UK thought to be heading towards its first recession in a decade, it’s no wonder the Government is looking for ways to bolster the economy.

Not so long ago a no-deal Brexit was said to be the answer, with a group of pro-Brexit economists stating in 2017 that the removal of all trade barriers would generate an annual uplift of £135 billion to the UK economy. Now that claim is seemingly dead in the water, the Tories have hit on a new way to boost an economy they seem hell-bent on ruining: raise the state pension age to 75 and, thanks to the combination of more workers and fewer pensioners, the state will stand to benefit to the tune of £182bn.

According to the Centre for Social Justice - a right-wing think-tank chaired by benefits-slasher and one-time Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith - existing policies that will see the state pension age rise from 66 to 67 in 2028 and then again to 68 by 2046 should not only be speeded up, they should be turbo-charged too. Indeed, with the proportion of the population reaching pension age growing far faster than the proportion reaching working - and hence tax-paying - age, the organisation has mooted raising the state pension age to 70 by 2028 before ramping it up to 75 just seven years later.

At face value it almost seems like a reasonable plan. When the first state pension was introduced over a century ago, it was only ever meant to act as an insurance policy to be cashed in by those unlucky enough to make it into an infirm old age. With just a quarter of the population living long enough to receive it, the cost of providing that version of the pension was relatively small.

Due to dramatic increases in life expectancy in the intervening years, though, state pension provision has become a hugely costly business, with the near £100bn the Government pays out to pensioners now expected to balloon to closer to £200bn in little over a decade.

As the bill for state pensions is met out of current year taxation, with the taxes paid by today’s workers funding the pensions paid to today’s pensioners, the intergenerational impact of that will be immense; raising the pension age is the most obvious way to ameliorate the impact. After all, anything that can reduce the burden on taxpayers while also increasing the pool of workers paying into the system has got to be a good idea, right?

Well, yes, only there are three glaring problems that show why the plan in its current form should never have seen the light of day. The most obvious issue with forcing swift and dramatic changes to retirement plans is that great swathes of the population are finding it hard enough to work beyond 60 as it is, never mind keeping on going to 70 and beyond. Sure, many people are more than capable of continuing to work beyond the official retirement age of 66, and many do so out of choice. But for those who have spent 40 years scrubbing floors or laying bricks, fighting fires or digging roads working into later life may not be an option.

The state already makes allowances for those in the former group, giving all workers the option to defer taking their state pension in return for enhanced payments when they do decide to draw it. Those in the latter group have no such luxury, though, with no systems in place to enable those who cannot keep working to take their pension early at a suitably reduced rate. The implication for them is clear: if the pension age is raised further many people will face the stark option of either continuing in a physically demanding job they are physically unfit to do or potentially falling into poverty.

The risk of the latter is all too real, with a study from Professor Bernhard Ebbinghaus of the University of Oxford finding that the proportion of over-65s living in severe poverty in the UK is already five times what it was in 1986, with our state pension provision largely to blame.

The UK is, Professor Ebbinghaus said, “a good example of the Beveridge-lite systems that have historically failed to combat old-age poverty” because they “have rather ungenerous basic pensions with means-tested supplements” which “reproduce relatively high severe poverty rates among the elderly”. Low though the state pension may be, putting it further out of that age-group’s reach is hardly likely to help solve the problem.

Then there’s the question of life expectancy. While it is true that part of the difficulty in accounting for the state pension is that people now typically live for 20 years or more in retirement, in some parts of the country - and Scotland in particular - that is not the case. And while Scottish males being born today are expected to make it to 77 and females to 81, there is no expectation that anyone born between 1961 and 1977 - the first cohort that would be impacted by the mooted pension-age rises - will make it to 75.

That is the crux of why the proposal cannot be allowed to fly. Yes, it’s a fallacy that each of us has a pension pot sitting at Westminster with our name on it - and, no, none of us has a right to be supported in retirement by the state - but it would be a cynical government indeed that would expect its citizens to pay the pensions of older generations without any hope of ever getting one of their own. It would be an egregious breach of the social contract and no exaggeration.

The Centre for Social Justice has its own spin on the age-rise proposal, with its chief executive Andy Cook saying that by finding ways to help older people stay in work the Government would be doing its bit to improve their health and wellbeing. But as those who want to do that already have the means of doing so, the proposal smacks more of finding ways for a Government staring financial ruin in the face to cut its own costbase.

Sure the state pension is expensive, and sure it makes sense to find ways of limiting the extent to which that cost will grow. But doing that in isolation, without also finding ways of growing the pot used to meet that cost, makes no sense at all.

Then again, with immigration, that bête noire of any self-respecting Brexiteer, being the most effective way of increasing the working-age, tax-paying population, is it any wonder the Centre for Social Justice has had to be so extreme?