Pensions for all and solidarity forever…

Legal Eagle

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I am aware that my recent comments concerning social democracy and the golden generation may have been slightly misconstrued. My intention was not to critique those now retired I was actually commending this generation for placing themselves on the right side of the poverty line, a position they and previous generations earned through struggle. I simply wished to highlight the obvious, that future generations who manage to reach the ever distant pensionable age, are going to find themselves in poverty. And we must reflect upon this as social democratic institutions wither on the vine both here and abroad. Quentin Crisp once said that in Britain the “people are cruel but the system kind; while in America the opposite was true”. If we accept this notion, then we need to ask, what happens to the poor in Britain when the system also becomes cruel? Because, I for one am tired of hearing privileged Tories bemoaning the fact that people are simply living too long in this country. We should be rejoicing in this and congratulating some of the social democratic institutions that have made this possible, such as the National Health Service, which is looking increasingly susceptible to privatisation in the future. One thing is for sure; once this privatisation kicks in we will undoubtedly see a drop in longevity levels in the UK, thus allowing the rich to make huge profits while resolving the tiresome problem of the demographic time-bomb.

When the retired teacher made his valedictory statement to me I responded by saying (in sadness) that generational conflict is likely to become a major problem as the century develops and he agreed. Demonizing those in receipt of pensions must be avoided and instead solidarity encouraged. The comment posted at the end of my previous blog inferring that I am a Liberal Party activist amused me, given that I am a non-aligned socialist with a background in trade union activity.

In saying this I do recognise the part played by the Liberal Party in establishing our Welfare State, a scan through history beginning with the reforms introduced by the Liberals between 1905-1915 illustrates this. A set of measure sometimes described as `Bismarkian Liberalism` adopted as they were to keep up with welfare developments in Germany, once it was noticed that the `British Tommy` was in a rather deplorable state. This fact came to public attention after the Boer War. The British Empire may have ruled over most of the world but many of its working class males were classified as unfit for active duty given the levels of malnourishment evident among the prospective recruits for active service. The Liberal Government provisions most notable are the Education Act 1906, The Workmen`s Compensation Act 1906, the Children`s Act 1908, the Old Age Pensions Act 1908 and the National Insurance Act 1911. Also Keynes and Beveridge were both Liberal Party supporters and are rightly considered the architects of modern British social democracy. One should not confuse the current cohort of Liberal Democrats with the giants from the Liberal Party past; there is more to the Liberal Party than the Orange Book Liberal faction. Just as there is more to the Labour Party than Tony Blair, whose November speech on Europe applauding the reduction in Labour costs in the EU says a great deal about the state of social democracy both at home and abroad.

Last Thursday BBC`s Newsnight programme gave a balanced appraisal of the pensions issue. There was an excellent contribution from Dot Gibson from the National Pensioners Convention who pointed out that she did not agree with the forcing up of the retirement age in which she reminded us the previous Labour government was also a party to. She also pointed out that state pensions in GB were among the lowest in Europe. Her observations about retirement differed dramatically from the experience of the retired Head Teacher; she described pensioners struggling under a variety of government cuts, measures which have impacted severely on pensioners many of whom she told us live an isolated and lonely existence.

Newsnight also provided a very interesting breakdown on figures linked to pensions pointing out that government cuts amount to £18 billion for the years 2014-15 and as we know David Cameron has excluded pensioners from these – although we were informed that Kenneth Clarke has suggested that the next Conservative Party Manifesto may herald a departure on this policy line. The range of universal benefits (non means tested) were outlined by Newsnight with figures such as the Winter Fuel Allowance costing £2.1 billion each year, concessionary bus travel £1 billion a year and free television licences for the over 75s amounting to £588 million per year. The programme also balanced these positive observations by highlighting the so called Granny tax which will adversely impact on those retiring next year. We also discovered that 2 million pensioners are officially in poverty with added millions said to be experiencing fuel poverty a factor to keep in mind as we enter into a very cold period. It is clear that many pensioners will now struggle to keep warm and nourished during this time, a terrible indictment on this country.

The BBC and Newsnight should be commended for this broadcast and it is to be hoped that they apply their resources and analysis to consider other pressures on the public purse, in these days of adversity. For example some analysis on expenditure on the so called nuclear deterrent would be welcome. If we are seriously talking about cost cutting then please allow some debate on a defence option that costs a fortune and in which no sane person would ever deploy. Britain in its current penury state does not deserve to stride the world stage as a military superpower. What I think we should concentrate on is making the UK a country worth fighting for, a nation which can provide decent jobs, homes, NHS and pensions for all.

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