David Cameron has announced the first plank of the next general election manifesto and it only affects about 18% of the population – pensioners. He has committed the Conservatives to the ‘triple lock’ to protect the basic state pension.
As almost a quarter of the population can’t vote because they are under 18, pensioners make up about a quarter of the voting population. And they are more likely to vote, so it isn’t surprising that politicians appear to have a preferential option for pensioners.
Why is the state pension not described as a benefit?
The ‘triple lock’ will have a big impact on the benefit bill. Jobseekers’ Allowance, Employment and Support Allowance, Income Support and Incapacity Benefit cost £20 billion a year. That seems like a lot, but the basic state pension costs £80 billion. When you add in pensioner benefits like pension credit and the winter fuel payment those costs rise by another £12 billion. The cuts are focused on the small stuff (if you consider £20 billion small) while the big stuff continues to rise.
In The Pinch, David Willetts sets out how the baby boomers – those like him born between 1945 and 1965 – have ‘stolen their children’s future’ through their cultural, demographic and political dominance. They are the biggest, richest generation that Britain has ever known. He argues that they have concentrated wealth and power around themselves and have done so at the expense of their children. The boomers are set to take out approximately 118% of what they’ll put into the welfare state. Willetts believes his generation have broken the inter-generational contract meaning those ‘entering the workforce today will be taxed more, work longer hours for less money, have lower social mobility and live in a degraded environment in order to pay for their parent’s quality of life.’
Change is necessary
The State Pension age was set at 65 in 1926 when there were nine people of working age for every pensioner and life expectancy was 70.6 years for a baby girl. There are now three people of working age for every pensioner, and that is set to fall to nearer two by the end of this century. A baby girl born in 2012 has an average life expectancy on 94. The number of pensioners has doubled in the last sixty years and continues to rise. The state pension age is rising, but will still only be 67 by 2028. People my age (38) will need to work well into their seventies and should be putting aside more now.
A theology of retirement
Retirement is an opportunity. There are issues of intergenerational injustice to be addressed. Young people today are funding the retirement of older people because no-one planned on people living this long. Retirees have a responsibility to invest in the next generation – they have tremendous knowledge and experience to offer wisdom and advice.
Because society defines people by what they do, once they stop ‘doing’ something, society is no longer interested. Older people are seen as a drain – they contribute nothing financially and the longer they live the more resources they use up. The church has a massive opportunity here to be counter-cultural and to see older people as the resource that they are. We should learn from B&Q and go further.
There are serious inter-generational issues to be resolved. Young people need to save more. Older people will have to sacrifice to ensure their children don’t end up worse off than they are. The church are already investing in the next generation and should do more to take the lead in this.