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This despicable demonisation of pensioners

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THERE have been a number of alerts in recent months, particularly in the Telegraph, that the triple lock on the state pension is under threat from the Chancellor’s axe. The DT Whitehall editor, Harry York, announced last week that Tory MPs were being canvassed on their views about dropping this manifesto commitment, and that a substantial number were likely to give it their support.

There is no doubt in my mind that the Telegraph is the government’s poodle in this regard. Having monitored its coverage for many months, it is clear to me that it has been rooting for this change with a steady drip of articles.

Despite a couple of token letters of dissent, and one token (guest) article on July 9 from Emily Andrews, deputy director of evidence at the Centre for Ageing Better (‘We shouldn’t fall for the myth that pensioners are all rich’), the opposing arguments have been totally ignored. 

Ms Andrews pointed out, among other things, that the UK has one of the least generous state pensions in the OECD and that the proposed action ‘could see the number of pensioners in poverty rise by 700,000 by 2050’. Significantly, and correctly in my view, she addressed the ‘ageist narrative’ that old people are greedy and rich, and a drain on the economy, even that their very existence is perceived more and more as a nuisance. I would add that this perception makes them an easy target, especially as they have no vociferous trade union to defend them.

As far as the Telegraph is concerned (and no doubt the politicians) Ms Andrews was wasting her breath. The Telegraph campaign became crystal clear in an editorial of July 25, which claimed that the state of the economy and future commitments requires ‘cutting the fat’, that there is ‘waste to be trimmed’ and ‘savings to be made’.

The first ‘fat to be cut’ was specified in the very next sentence – ‘the triple lock on pensions has to be reformed’.

To hammer the message home, this was followed with a despicable article by Simon Heffer in the Sunday Telegraph. A well-off person himself, with a privileged and lucrative journalistic career, he scoffs at the idea that many pensioners might be struggling. No, he puffs from his well-fed cheeks, those of us who are over sixty are very well off indeed, and those who have not provided for their old age are just ‘feckless’. (Doesn’t that attitude ring a historical bell?) It doesn’t occur to him that a number of factors might prevent many from storing up such riches, including ill-health and redundancy. Manifesto promise? Tush! It was a silly pledge and should be broken, especially as the oldies are the ‘main clients’ of the NHS (such a burden, aren’t they? – except for the fact that the NHS neglected them over the past 17 months, especially in the death camps known as care homes).

The clincher for Mr Heffer, and those with his views, is the mantra that the old should not get richer at the expense of the young (whom he also stereotypes). It never occurs to him, or to the propaganda sheet he writes for, that there is a false premise in that argument (as well as a number of other flaws) – the old growing richer at the expense of the young. 

Thatisjust emotional manipulation, and of a particularly nasty kind, setting the young against the old with the effect, if not the intention, of causing resentment and provoking the perception of oldies as useless parasites. Time after time the MSM have also pushed the idea that the young have willingly put their lives on hold to protect the elderly (a feat of altruism which has nothing to do with being compelled by the government to ‘follow the rules’). The dominant message was not ‘save granny’ but ‘protect the NHS’. And it is a funny way of caring for the elderly to cast them into social isolation, forbid contact with their loved ones and put DNR notices on their notes.

As to the financial argument, what has ‘disadvantaged’ the young is a government that has trashed the economy, not only through unnecessary lockdowns inspired by cross-eyed modellers, but also by hosing away billions on state profligacy, such as HS2, rampant and uncontrolled illegal immigration, ‘health tourism’, not monitoring fraudulent furlough claims etc. And if we are talking about ‘cutting the fat’, what about the following?

Treasury officials given pay rises of up to 30 per cent, and £15,000 bonuses (Telegraph July 29).

MPs could receive pay rises above the level for public sector workers next year (Telegraph July 23).

And the real buster – Civil servants at contact tracing organisation earning astronomical salaries, and thousands of consultants on rates of £7,000 per day. Vast sums spent by the organisation run by the UK Health Security Agency on a £37billion two-year budget (Sunday Telegraph August 1).

All this fuss about a triple lock on pensions when most old people have spent a lifetime paying taxes, National Insurance contributions, and many are trying to help their children financially while also providing childcare for grandchildren while their parents are at work. Their attempt to leave something for their children is hampered by punitive inheritance tax.

While it is true that the triple lock will be artificially inflated by recent circumstances, that will easily be eaten away by hikes in council tax and utility bills, rising prices, modest savings worth less and less, a free TV licence cancelled by the BBC.

Money spent on foreign aid has often been misdirected on to trivial projects (and therefore abused) just to use up the budget, yet 24 rebel Tories led by John Major and Theresa May voted against the foreign aid budget cut. Not a squeak so far from either of those worthies about the threat to the state pension, which, given the factors I have mentioned, is hardly likely to make any pensioner rich.

Why, Mrs May, are you not calling the Tories ‘the nasty party’ over this attitude to our pensioners? 

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Frank Palmer
Dr Frank Palmer is a philosopher and author. He was taught by Roger Scruton who was his PhD supervisor and during the 1980s was part of a thinktank of academics Roger formed to fight damaging trends in education. Frank’s last book was Literature and Moral Understanding (Oxford University Press).

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