Select Committee on European Scrutiny Minutes of Evidence

Annex 1

Letter from Mr Peter Hain MP to the Chairman of the European Scrutiny Committee

  At the meeting of the European Scrutiny Committee on 24 April I agreed to write to you with information on two questions raised by the Members.

    Question 26.   Mr Connarty asked: How the UK compared with other European States, on [retirement ages] and what specific action should the Government be taking to comply with this Directive [Section 32 of the Presidency Conclusions from Barcelona (on extending the working life of the population?)].

  The Barcelona Conclusions (not an EU directive) seek an increase of about five years in the effective average age at which people stop working in the European Union. The issue is not about state pension age, rather the effective age at which people leave the labour market. In the UK State Pension Age (the age from which Retirement Pension can be claimed) is 60 for women (rising to 65 between 2010 and 2020) and 65 for men. However, according to Department for Work and Pensions research, in the UK 55 per cent of men and one third of women retire before their State Pension age. The average on retirement is 62 for men and 59 for women. (Office for National Statistics: Retirement Survey.)

  The UK's State Pension Ages are closely paralleled in other EU states. Retirement around the age of 60 to 65 is the norm. Some states allow earlier retirement but this is often linked closely to pension contributions.

  The Barcelona Conclusions emphasised the need to extend participation in the labour force for people below State Pension Age. The UK has performed well against the EU targets set at the Lisbon and Stockholm Councils. It is one of the few member states to achieve the employment rate target of 50 per cent of those aged 55-64. The employment rate for those aged 50 to State Pension age (SPA) has increased in each of the past four years and is currently 67.9 per cent (Winter 2001-02). This has risen faster than the employment rate in other age groups and has reduced the gap between the 50-SPA and the general employment rate.

  The UK Government is tackling the issue of extending the working life of the population in several ways. The New Deal 50 plus is helping the long-term unemployed and has so far helped 60,000 people back into work. In addition the Age Positive Campaign is promoting the Code of Practice on Diversity in Employment through awards, events and advertising. The Code highlights the benefits of an age diverse workforce. This has achieved some success but is seeking further improvement by engaging small employers in one-day workshops. The Age Positive website provides further promotion for the scheme providing extensive information and guidance for employers and individuals.

  The UK is currently looking at a more flexible approach to later retirement, working with employers and older people. The aim is to ease the transition from employment to later and more active retirement. It also promotes the benefits to business. The findings of the project have been published with the Employers Forum on Age, "Flexible Working Practices including Progressive Retirement". The project sought to identify good practice case studies. On the back of the New Deal 50 Scheme, the Government is also developing recruit and train packages for employment sectors with labour shortages, e.g. Information Technology and Healthcare.

    Question 35. Miss McIntosh asked: Is there any way in which the Government could see fit through its broadband strategy, perhaps by bringing forward the analogue switch-off, to enable us to have access to foreign [EU] language television?

  There are currently no plans to increase access to foreign language television via the terrestrial network but changes may occur as a result of work being done on the Government's broadband strategy.

  Digital switchover (turning off analogue signals and digitisation of the network) will allow more channels to be available on the terrestrial system, and might make it cheaper and easier to transmit services in a foreign language.

  However, we are more optimistic about the impact of the broadband and video-on demand networks. These will give consumers the opportunity to receive, on request, many programmes, from a bank of programmes available on a server. An operator already provides such facilities in London. The significant increase in the number of programmes on offer is likely to include foreign language programmes.

  Within the existing regulatory framework, there are also some new initiatives. Adding to their existing European language programmes, the BBC have proposed the setting up of an on-line service, to be called "Digital Curriculum", that will cover all core and non-core subjects on the school curriculum for children between the ages of five to 16. There is the possibility of provision in minority subjects and French and Spanish, as non-core subjects, would be included. The proposal requires to be approved by the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport. An application for approval has been submitted by the BBC and is currently subject to a formal consultation procedure.

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