18 August 2008

State pensions and Trojan Horses

Hundreds of thousands of pensioners are living in poverty because they are not claiming the benefits due to them, official figures suggest. Ministers admitted that 700,000 pensioners would be lifted over the poverty line at a stroke if they simply got all the help to which they are entitled. Opposition MPs say many are put off claiming by the complexity of Gordon Brown’s benefit system, which involves complicated forms and lengthy telephone applications. (Daily Mail, 12 August 2008)

This is all the result of a means-tested pensions system, which should never have been introduced and which should be abolished. The real deterrent to applying for “benefits” is, or should be, not the complexity of the forms and procedures, but simply the fact that it cannot be done without drawing to oneself and one’s circumstances the attention of agents of the collective, who may easily attract the attention of other agents of the collective, who may decide that one should be deprived of one’s liberty. Those who complain of the present system naturally miss the point, because they are themselves in most cases agents of the collective who have nothing against people being deprived of their liberty.

For example, Liberal Democrat work and pensions spokesman Jenny Willott said: “The system must be simplified to ensure poor pensioners get the cash they so desperately need.”

The charity Age Concern also fails to address the real issue, instead taking seriously the rationalisations given for failing to apply. Research carried out by this charity shows that the reason given by almost 50% of respondents is that they find means-testing too intrusive, and by 40% that they are discouraged by complicated forms.

Opposition MPs do have some objection to means-testing, describing it as “demeaning”, and arguing that means-testing is

expensive to administer and acts as a disincentive to save. Officials trawl through details of people’s pensions, earnings, benefits and savings to work out whether they should receive top-ups. (ibid)

But no one mentions the real and absolute deterrent to applying, which is that in the course of “trawling”, officials may decide that it would be better for a person not to be allowed to go on living where they are living, or in the way they are living, at all.

It is very dangerous to draw the attention of the Oppressive State to your affairs, and probably many who fail to apply realise this, if only vaguely or subconsciously.

Until relatively recent years, pensions were the only “benefit” which was free from this danger. They were paid as a right to those who had made enough contributions, not to those whose “need” would be assessed as greatest by agents of the collective.

Means-testing of pensions should be abolished.

‘The question of ethics with regard to pension policy is one of the issues on which Oxford Forum could be producing fundamental critical analyses if it were provided with adequate funding. We appeal for £2m as initial funding to enable us to write and publish on this and similar issues, which are currently only discussed in the context of pro-collectivist arguments.’ Charles McCreery, DPhil