Letter: Centenary of the state pension

Proletarian writers

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Proletarian writers

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2008 is the centenary of the state pension in Britain. I would first like to quote some of what Alan Walker, Patron of the National Pensioners’ Convention, said in his address to the Sixteenth Annual Pensioners’ Parliament, 3-5 June 2008.

“If we look back 100 years, those involved in the pensions campaign must have felt elated. Even though it was nine years after the German pension; was means-tested; only awarded at the age of 70 and you had to pass a ‘character test’ to get it, this must have seemed like the dawn of a new era.

“Of course, the history books tell us that it was the benevolence of the Liberal Association, and Lloyd George in particular, that was responsible for this breakthrough. But the history books are wrong; it took a long and sometimes bitter campaign by older people and the trade unions to achieve it.

“The true history of the 1908 pension was documented by a stalwart of the pensioners’ movement, Dave Goodman, and the title of his book was No thanks to Lloyd George! Nonetheless, the payment of a public, non-contributory pension was a big step and, because of the difference in death rates, most of the payments went to women.

“If you were lucky enough to receive a pension (from January 1909) it was paid at 25p per week (or 5 shillings), which was one-quarter of average earnings. The Beveridge scheme that followed 40 years later was set at just below one-fifth of average earnings (and this very nearly got back to 25 percent in 1978 under the Labour government).”

The National Pensioners’ Convention, with affiliates throughout the trade-union and pensioners’ movements, is holding celebrations this autumn on this 100th anniversary.

On 22 October 2008 there is a joint lobby of Parliament. For the first time, the trade-union movement has joined with the pensioners in calling on the government for an adequate state pension.

The state pension is dwindling slowly but surely. It has now dropped to a mere 12 percent of the average male wage, and is officially considered to be the lowest in Europe. In l974, the government brought in SERPS (the State Earnings-Related Pension Scheme), which, like the state pension, was a government scheme requiring contributions from workers and employers and which was expected to bring the state pension up to a decent level. That scheme was introduced in 1978. The 1979 Thatcher government cut SERPS in half, and Blair’s Labour government got rid of the other half.

SERPS has gone and the government is paving the way for the state pension to come in at a later age. My daughter, who is 50, tells me she must work until she is 68 before she gets a pension. She works in the NHS and, with the increased workload following cuts in staff levels, is so tired she is ready to retire now and wonders how she will manage to keep going until she is 68. The hours that are worked in Britain are longer than any in the EU.

One might think that paying the state pension in a country where people are living longer is a burden on the government. This is absolutely not the case. The government’s pension fund is growing yearly and, as at 2007-08, is standing at over £46bn. The government could easily pay the increase the pensioners are calling for. However, interest on that money is apparently being used by the government for other things while 2.5 million pensioners are living in poverty.

The trade -union movement has always fought to give its members work-related pensions, but those schemes are drying up and the stock market is ‘taking care’ of so many pensions. Many pensioners, myself included, belonged to a trade union but have only the state pension in retirement. We need the trade-union movement to look after us as well as those with work-related pensions. Pensioners don’t have the strike weapon, and an organisation like the TUC should look to help all former trade unionists.

The National Pensioners’ Convention is, for pensioners, the best thing since baked bread. It takes up every single item affecting pensioners, whether it be the loss of post offices and being pushed to take out a bank account when you don’t want one, to having to walk further for a post office. It encourages Members of Parliament to put forward Early Day Motions, like EDM1443, which calls on the government to substantially raise the basic state pension for all men and women. It keeps a check on what every Member of Parliament votes for, because in my own borough our three MPs are telling us one thing and voting differently when the matter goes through parliament.

EC, London

‘Address by Professor Alan Walker’, published by the National Pensioners’ Convention. 50p. Tel: 020 7627 8666 for booklets and information on the centenary celebrations.

Lobby of Parliament on Wednesday 22 October 2008. Meet 11.00am at Whitehall Place.

Write to your MP at The House of Commons, London SW1A 0AA and make an appointment to see him/her on the 22nd to spell out what you want in the way of an adequate state pension.