The Blog

Pensioning Off Their Legacy

In the run up to this year's General Election, the UK's two main parties - Labour and the Conservatives - have traded the usual arguments and insults, drawing their battle lines and going to great lengths to highlight their differences.

In the run up to this year's General Election, the UK's two main parties - Labour and the Conservatives - have traded the usual arguments and insults, drawing their battle lines and going to great lengths to highlight their differences.

Yet while these differences are many and varied, on one point it is impossible to split them. The Conservative Party "plans to give people security in retirement". The Labour Party wants to give people "a secure and comfortable retirement".

A noble aim, I am sure you agree. But in neither party's case is this a reflection of a deeply held belief in pensioner welfare. No. This is vote buying, pure and simple.

It cannot have escaped your notice that this Parliament has been dominated by the word 'austerity'. The 2007 financial crisis has ultimately resulted in the kind of belt-tightening that would make the average supermodel wince. The coalition have slashed and cut wherever politics - and by that I mean electability - would allow.

And yet still our nation's spending better resembles Eric Pickles' prosperous waistband than a corseted Cara Delevigne. Between April and December last year, the Government borrowed £86.3bn. That puts the UK's total public sector debt at over two trillion pounds. Trillion, it must be remembered, is not a made up number, used in playgrounds to mean 'lots and lots of sweeties'. That is two thousand, thousand, million. £2,000,000,000,000.

Lots and lots and LOTS of sweeties.

The result of this has been a political climate in which even the most ardent advocate of public spending acknowledged the need to cut back. If the United Kingdom was a family unit, it had become incredibly dysfunctional, and scarily reliant on credit cards to fund its weekly shop. Holidays, fancy cars, a new laptop - all that was off the agenda. The family of Great Britain was living beyond its means, and desperately needed to cut back.

And yet now, with an election looming, the purse strings are loosening - but only in the most voter-friendly areas.

When the Old Age Pension was introduced in 1908, the average life expectancy was around 50. To draw a pension was, in those days, an achievement in itself. You have done bloody well, old man, to reach such a ripe old age. Here, let the state help you to live a more comfortable life.

A noble aim, I'm sure you will agree.

But in 2015, average life expectancy is around 85. Pensionable age, until very recently, has remained the same. The state pension, at 107 years old, has now matured into a right, rather than a privilege. While the average person in 1908 was dead 15 years before they could draw their pension, now the standard expectation is 20 years of leisure. Goodness knows what the first pensioners would have made of that.

So, you would think, pensioners are quite well looked after in the 21st Century. Baby boomers, now about to pick up their first pension, could well turn out to be our nation's most pampered generation.

The nation's demographics make that all too clear. That lengthening life expectancy has combined with a dwindling birth rate to pose a problem. Pensions are paid by the state, which requires people of working age to contribute to its coffers.

More pensioners + fewer workers is not an equation that anyone wants to balance.

If we remember that deficit - that huge amount of sweeties - the sensible decision would be to cut back on the 20 years of leisure. To move away from the assumption of a pension as a right, and back towards the privilege it represented in 1908. In many ways that is the only decision.

But it is not a decision that will win votes. And that is a problem.

The continuing apathy of young people towards politics, of course, means that they are bound to lose out. Young people need to understand the need to look after themselves. Russell Brand espousing mass indifference is not helpful. In order to be heard, you need to be at the debate.

But what is often missed - by both young and old - is that it is actually the future of the nation that is at risk, not just young people in 2015.

The pensioners I know are lovely people. Incredible, really. The struggles they have seen in their lives are unimaginable to a child of the 80s. They have - all of them - worked hard, battled through, and emerged into their dotage with stories that I will never tire of hearing.

But they always had hope. That their hard work would pay off. And as a result, are also wealthy. Perhaps not in their own minds. But in comparison to the young graduates I know - emerging from University saddled with debt, daunted by the perfect storm of extortionate rental costs, low salaries and a high costs of living - not to mention the barriers between them and home ownership - the average pensioner is definitely wealthy.

And because these comparatively wealthy people have a propensity not shared by their younger counterparts to vote, they are disproportionately courted by the political parties, and showered with vote-winning entreaties. Nowadays, a generous pension is not enough. Fuel allowance - even to wealthy middle class pensioners. Free bus travel - even to millionaire 65 year olds. And yet a fuel allowance here or a free bus journey there will not make any material difference to the life of the average pensioner. None at all.

The citizen's advice bureau has a whole webpage dedicated to benefits for older people. Try finding the equivalent for young people.

And this is wrong. Not because it's what the political parties are doing. But because it's what pensioners are allowing them to do.

The pensioners I know are also generous people. They think, constantly, of what they will pass on to the next generation. Not just in terms of money, but in terms of heritage, history and anecdotes. Their children and grandchildren are well looked after, well thought of, and cherished. Their legacy is never far from their minds.

And yet still they fall for the vote grabbing tactics.

Well now, I would like to propose a change. Pensioners of the United Kingdom, unite. Apply the same principles you do when considering your personal legacy to your voting behaviours. Look at the wider picture - of the impact of your decisions on your descendants. Demand that the political parties stand up for the rights of your grandchildren. Fight for the rights of young people.

It is the only way to ensure your legacy is not tainted by generation upon generation of debt.

Before You Go