Cameron’s divide and rule pension pledges

PRIME Minister David Cameron last Sunday told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show that he promises to “protect” the state pension if the Tories are re-elected in 2015 with the “triple lock”, which means that pensions will rise every year according to average wage levels or inflation or 2.5 per cent, whichever is highest.

At the same time Chancellor George Osborne is promising a further £12 billion cuts to welfare spending and promising to deny housing benefit to those under 25 altogether.

It is a very nasty strategy to try to foment a war between the generations, to get the young and the old at war with each other. It gives the impression that the elderly are doing very nicely while everyone else in the country is suffering more and more cuts. Soon the elderly will be looked on as the ultimate idle scroungers.

But it is not the elderly who are taking food out of the mouths of children and young people. Britain’s basic state pension, currently at £110, is still one of the lowest in Europe and represents just 24 per cent of the average wage.

Meanwhile Cameron has said he will have to “look at” the “perks” that pensioners get now, like free bus passes and a winter fuel payment — which has already been reduced from £250 a year to £200 while the costs of domestic fuel have gone through the roof.

In addition pensioners have suffered a thousand-andone cuts to various social and health services they rely on to make life worth living — lunch clubs, drop-in centres and so on. They have suffered the same cuts to housing benefit and council tax benefits as younger people — only being on a lower basic income they are proportionately more likely to be dependent on these benefits. And then there are the horrendous cuts to disability benefits which affect the elderly more as old age brings increasing serious health problems. The person waiting more than 12 hours on a hospital trolley for attention and a bed is most likely to be a pensioner.

The only thing they can be sure of — for the moment — is that the Department of Work and Pensions is not going to try to harry them into trying to find a non-existent job. But as the pension age rises and the austerity regime becomes a permanent fixture it won’t be long before people in their late 60s will be expected to spent fruitless time and energy trying to sell themselves to employers who are cutting the staff they already have.

That is unless the whole country doesn’t suddenly go sane and have a socialist revolution.

There are of course a few wealthy pensioners and all the three main parties are threatening to cut their pensions. This means introducing a means test — cumbersome, expensive and bureaucratic to administer, costing more than it will recover and which will exclude many of those genuinely in need who cannot navigate their way through the hoops and mystifications of the bureaucracy.

This is why we now, as always, stand by the principle of universal pensions and benefits. Let those pensioners who are wealthy pay higher taxes and put their surplus wealth back into the system that way.

The other thing we must remember — and most pensioners will — is that five years ago Cameron was pledging that the NHS was safe in his hands. Now he is pledging that pensions are safe in his hands we should all be very worried about our old age.