07 July 2009

Tories: honouring a commitment is ‘far too expensive’

I have commented previously on the victimisation of pensioners. They are suitable objects for victimisation because they tend to be relatively middle class. The fact that middle class people are able to live longer, through a combination of forethought, intelligence and prior capital accumulation, is taken as a reason for penalising them. According to the prevailing ideology, it ought not to be possible for them to benefit from these factors compared to other people, because it is unfair.

One of the most appalling features of the anti-pensioner policy programme is means-testing, which I have discussed before. A prior contract between individuals and the state – that they were guaranteed to benefit from contributions they made towards the state retirement fund – has been cavalierly rescinded. Some people, like myself, even made voluntary contributions on this understanding, which is now revealed to have been entirely conditional. More and more of the state pension will be contingent on people having no savings, once again penalising those with forethought, intelligence, etc. The excuse for this is to target increasingly scarce resources at those ‘with the greatest need’.

This ‘need’ argument seems to be becoming the excuse for penalising the majority of potential recipients of state benefits and handouts, with only the alleged ‘underclass’ or ‘underprivileged’ being the approved targets for state spending – though whether even these people truly benefit from any of the ‘services’ designed with them in mind may be doubted.

The Conservative Party, which might have been expected to take a different line on all this, shows little sign of recognising the principle involved. Once upon a time the principle of not reneging on contracts would have formed a natural part of the ethos in this country, and various politicians and spokespersons, particularly from the conservative end of the political spectrum, could have been expected to make reference to it in defence of maintaining (e.g.) the originally planned system of state pensions. No longer, it seems.

David Cameron, the current Conservative Party leader, has some strange priorities. He has said that:

One of the greatest unfairnesses for the elderly [is] that those who [have] worked hard, saved up and done the right thing [have] to pay the full cost of their care home place.

Thus, so long as a pensioner is willing to surrender his independence completely by going into a home, he may be allowed to retain his savings. On the other hand, says Mr Cameron, the Conservatives ‘would not abolish means testing altogether because it would be far too expensive’.

It seems odd that reversing the reneging on a prior contract by the government should be regarded as ‘too expensive’, while all kinds of other schemes to (supposedly) increase ‘social welfare’ are not regarded as too expensive.

What is needed is a return to a situation in which people can, by forethought, avoid becoming dependent on the state, and where they are not penalised for this avoidance either at the time, or later in life. A Conservative government should make this its top priority.

‘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