I hope everyone is having a good summer and has been able to enjoy some of the fine weather we’ve been having (is it me or has the weather been a wee bit better this year than most? Touch wood).
The House of Commons has just risen for its summer recess, and it’s safe to say that MPs have a lot to reflect on over the next few weeks after a pretty eventful year.
While a lot of the focus has rightly been on Brexit, given it has such huge implications for all of us, there is an important job to do in holding the Tories to account on the day-to-day business of government.
One of the last announcements the Tory government made this session was, for millions of people across the UK, potentially one of the most significant.
That’s because millions of us have suddenly been told we are going to have to work one year longer before we can retire, as the state pension age is set to increase from 67 to 68 in 2037 – seven years earlier than planned.
This affects people born between 1970 and 1978 – and it’s estimated that there are more than half a million people in Scotland in that age group.
Now, it’s absolutely right that governments properly review the sustainability of the services that they fund – no one would argue with that.
But this bombshell announcement has been landed on people – not before an election, but just a few short weeks after it – and without any proper consultation at all.
And no consideration whatsoever appears to have been given to the detrimental impact this change to the state pension age will have on people living in different parts of the UK.
The cynical handling of this announcement by the Tories has simply rubbed salt on the wounds.
It has long been anticipated that they were going to unveil their decision, and it was in fact supposed to be made by early May – but clearly the Tories didn’t like the idea of making it during the election campaign so they quietly delayed it.
Then they waited until Parliament was winding down for the recess – and chose a day they knew the BBC were set to reveal the salaries of its senior presenters, which would be a major news story – to try and bury this bad news.
There’s something of a pattern developing here in this Tory government’s policy towards older people.
The election that caused them to delay this announcement was of course dominated by some dreadful Tory policy plans which cost them a huge amount of support – such as their planned cuts to Winter Fuel Payments and their notorious Dementia Tax.
And it’s not even the first time they’ve changed the pension age without proper consultation or notice.
You’ll probably heard of the excellent WASPI campaign, Women Against State Pension Inequality.
They have been fighting for justice for millions of women born in the 1950s, who a couple of years ago were told – with virtually no prior notice – that they must work until they are 65.
While most people agree with equalising the state pension, it is an absolute travesty that this was rushed through on an accelerated timetable.
Women who were preparing to retire have not been given a reasonable time to plan for the future.
That campaign goes on, and SNP MPs will fully support their efforts in the House of Commons.
Issues around pensions are complex and need to be looked at more broadly – that’s why the SNP wants to see the establishment of an Independent Savings and Pensions Commission – to ensure that both pensions and savings policies are fit for purpose.
Part of its remit should be to consider the demographic needs of different parts of the UK in relation to the state pension age – it’s an uncomfortable truth that some parts of Scotland have lower life expectancy due to historic and deeply-ingrained public health challenges.
Indeed, there was a cruel irony in the fact that last week’s announcement came almost at the same time as reports that improvements in life expectancy in the UK has stalled for the first time in a century.
We see no reason why the State Pension Age should go beyond 66.
Whenever I hear the Tory government unveil measures like this, which they say will help bring down the deficit, I’m always reminded of the fact that they found the money to cut taxes for the richest in their budget.
How can they say there is money to cut taxes for the rich, but no money to properly fund our pensions?
It just feels like everything the Tories do puts balance sheets before people.
The Tories need to learn the lesson from their election result – they spent the campaign relentlessly attacking the incomes of older people, and ended up losing their majority.
If they don’t learn that lesson, and fast, they will find that their support still has some way to fall – and with very good reason indeed.