30 September 2010

A strange remedy

In a recent Daily Mail editorial, under the title ‘The cheats who give welfare a bad name’, there is a reference to the case of an elderly couple, married for almost 50 years, who were found dead in their unheated home during the winter. Their death is ascribed to their having been ‘too proud and independent to accept offers of help from the social services.’

A fictitious pride and independence seems to be the only motivation that subscribers to the modern ideology can consider. It is at least as plausible to suppose that it was a thoroughly sensible sense of self-preservation. The couple could not accept offers of help without exposing themselves to the scrutiny of social workers, and at the age which they had reached they must have been aware of the possibility that they might be considered no longer fit to retain their independence, and might be incarcerated in ‘care’ homes. Very likely, if this had happened, they would have been separated. They may have quite deliberately decided that they would prefer to die together, and at liberty.

I do not mean to suggest that it is only the possibility of separation for married couples which makes the final loss of independence appear to some people as a fate worse than death.

The only realistic way to make situations of this kind significantly less likely is to return to an un-means-tested State pension, at a level that is likely to be adequate both for heating and for domestic help of a non-interfering kind. The cost of adequate pensions could surely be easily met by significantly reducing the army of social workers who now poke and pry into people’s lives, or even eliminating this army altogether.

The Daily Mail would like us to believe that the reluctance of old people to apply for help from the social services has been increased by the ‘rapidly growing army of benefit cheats’. So, the Daily Mail suggests, we must have ‘much tougher and more rigorous assessment of those who seek benefits’.

This will mean insisting on the same standards of efficiency from civil servants as those expected of employees in every well run private company.

It will mean far more rigorous checks on claims – handled with sensitivity so as not to deter those in genuine need.

The only real solution is to abolish the system of benefits completely. Such a system is sure to lead (as it has done) to an ever increasing population of dependents, and an increasing prevalence of dishonesty. (The dishonesty is inevitable, and not necessarily conscious.) Tougher rules are more likely to increase the level of dishonesty than to decrease the number of applicants. As it is, for example, many must apply for unemployment benefit who realise, at least subconsciously, that they have no intention of remaining in a job for more than a few days.

20 September 2010

Treacherous parents and a treacherous fund-raiser

Further to this, here is another piece of history which my colleague Dr Charles McCreery has sent to the person who is planning to write a book about his father, the late General Sir Richard McCreery.

Herewith an account of a meeting in 1965 between myself, my mother and our then fund-raiser, Charles Scott-Paton, together with some of its sequelae. In writing this account I have referred to copies of letters, contemporary with the events described, from Scott-Paton to Sir George Joy (our chief Trustee at the time), from my colleague Dr Celia Green to Scott-Paton, and from Scott-Paton to Celia Green.

* * *

In the following account I describe some of the damage which my parents did to our fund-raising campaign in 1965, the effects of which are felt to the present day.

Far from ‘cutting myself off’ from my family, as they liked to make out, I made great efforts to keep in touch with them, and indeed rope them in to our war effort, in the first year after finishing my degree.

At that time we were employing a professional fund-raiser, Charles Scott-Paton, in an attempt to build up the charity’s financial position. Since 1963 the charity had been in receipt of a seven-year covenant from the publishers of the Daily Mirror, IPC, arranged by its then Chairman, Cecil Harmsworth King. At the outset Cecil King had said that his covenant was intended merely as a ‘pump-priming’ operation, and we were therefore attempting to get the charity set up on a more adequate scale. Cecil King himself had referred to various organizations, including the Gulbenkian Foundation, from which he might be able to get us more substantial funding in the future, if we could demonstrate productivity on a small scale.

I conceived the idea of taking my mother to meet our fund-raiser, Scott-Paton, thinking that he would be impressed by her social status, and she in turn would be impressed by his professionalism.

Scott-Paton worked from home, in a house in Hampstead. To my astonishment, my mother and I had scarcely sat down in his presence before he immediately launched into a disavowal of any identification with our project, and stated that he had only taken us on as clients as a favour to his friend, Charles Gibbs-Smith (Keeper of the Department of Public Relations at the Victoria and Albert Museum, and a friend of one of our Patrons, Mrs Mary Adams, a former Head of Television Talks at the BBC).

I had been making regular visits to Scott-Paton from Oxford, as part of the planning for the launch of our fund-raising campaign with a function at the English Speaking Union, and I had never heard him speak in this way to myself. In the circumstances (we were paying him to promote our charity, so one might have thought he was answerable to me and my colleagues, not to Gibbs-Smith or my mother) this struck me as a betrayal.

Meanwhile, my mother sat listening attentively and with evident approval, not intervening at all with any remarks that might have counteracted his treachery and given him pause as to whether he was adopting the right line to her.

It should be borne in mind that I had invited both my parents to be Patrons of our charity, and they had accepted these positions, so one might have thought that my mother had a moral obligation to keep our end up when in public relations situations such as this.

This meeting continued as it had begun, with Scott-Paton and my mother reinforcing each other’s negative attitudes, and myself a mortified onlooker, largely silent while they talked across me to each other. I found it impossible to intervene to retrieve the situation, because to attempt to do so would have involved explicitly disagreeing with one or both of them as they expressed their ‘reservations’ and negativities to one another. Instead I was forced to watch as they carved me up in front of my eyes.

A sequel to this meeting with Scott-Paton was that my mother either initiated or propagated a slander to the effect that our charity was ‘in financial difficulties’. As with the drug-taking slander that my parents were later responsible for triggering, it is not clear who first thought up this slander. My mother tried to make Scott-Paton sound responsible by claiming she had got the idea from ‘reading between the lines’ of a letter Scott-Paton had written to her; while Scott-Paton, when taxed with this, claimed that it was my mother who had introduced the idea to him.

Needless to say, to imply that we were on the verge of financial collapse as an organization was likely to be a strong deterrent to anyone considering supporting us financially.

Soon after this episode our relations with Scott-Paton broke down completely, and the function at the English Speaking Union, for which invitations had already been sent out to the Press and potential donors, had to be cancelled. Scott-Paton sent in his final bill with notable alacrity, as if fearful that he might not be paid.

Up to this point Scott-Paton had held out the prospect of being able to arrange a charity premiere for our benefit at the Mermaid Theatre, then run by Sir Bernard Miles. Nothing more was heard of this thereafter.

I should make it clear that although in the preceding account I refer primarily to my mother, my father would have been fully complicit in the damage that was done to our fund-raising efforts. In matters such as this my mother never acted without my father’s approval. Indeed she was often at pains to emphasize the identity between her views and my father’s, both in family matters and about life in general.

I should also like to make it clear that I consider that my siblings owe me immediate reparation for the slanders and disinheritings, as follows:

Each of my siblings to make over to me a fourth part of any inheritance they received from my parents or any other member of my family and from which I was excluded. The sum to be calculated as follows: the size of the initial legacy to be compounded at the rate of 10% per annum from the date of receiving the inheritance up to the present day, to allow for inflation and the accrual of interest on the capital over that period.

Similar considerations apply to any lifetime payments or gifts any of them have received from my parents or other relatives, such as help with school fees, the gift of farms, London flats, etc. For me to consider restoring normal relations I require that a fourth part of the value of any such fees, property, etc., be paid to myself, with accrued interest and adjustment for inflation as described above.

11 September 2010

The retrospective pensions swindle

I have a book entitled The Great Pensions Swindle* which, 40 years ago, made some useful points about the likely unreliability of state pensions. The following, however, is unrealistic:

The breaking point is not postponable indefinitely. The resistance to periodic increases in ‘social insurance’ contributions will begin all the sooner when the ‘contributors’ realise they are paying not insurance contributions but an income tax. (p.128)

In fact, no significant realisation arose that “National Insurance” contributions were just a form of income tax, which increased the Government’s current spending money. Otherwise the book anticipates very much what has happened. What happens when a future generation decides it prefers to spend its money on what is fashionable at the time (overseas ‘aid’, social workers, ‘universities’, etc.) rather than providing a former generation with the pension it thought it was paying for? The pensions are 'too expensive'; they are suddenly means-tested, and paid at ever later ages.

Not least, let it be clearly understood that ‘right’ (to the pension) and ‘contract’ are two more good words that have been made misnomers. A ‘right’ to a pension that a man acquires by saving for it is unambiguous. The ‘right’ a man has to an income when he can no longer work is of a different kind. The word has been re-defined to mean a moral right or claim on society. But transfers of income from one age-group, or class, or generation, to another represent decisions by one group, or class, or generation, to help another in time of need. No group, or class, or generation has a ‘right’ in any absolute sense. ...

In civilised parlance ‘contract’ means a voluntary agreement between two parties each of whom thinks it will gain. There is no such voluntary agreement between the generations on pensions. Indeed, there can hardly be one since future generations cannot be consulted; and if they could they would hardly agree since the terms are loaded against them. (pp.129-130)

* * *

Retrospective legislation has become increasingly frequent, and by now no one seems to remember that there was ever anything against it. It used to be said that the individual had a right to know what was legally open to him (in taxation, etc.) so that he could plan his affairs to secure the best outcome in view of his own interests and priorities, as he conceived them to be.

The recent changes in the ages at which state pensions become payable is really an egregious example of retrospective legislation, and directly affects people in as bad a position as we are. If a company which offered pension schemes were suddenly to announce that all its pensions were to be paid two years later, those who had been paying into the schemes might well wish to sue it for breach of contract. When the government does the same thing, no legal redress is available. This has happened recently and seems likely to happen more, so that my junior colleagues’ pensions recede as one approaches them. The age at which one of them will start receiving her pension was first shifted from 60 to 62, and then again to 64. Another’s pension was shifted from 65 to 67, and seems likely to be further delayed to the age of 68.

Thus the state has already deprived us, who are trying to build up towards an adequate academic institutional environment, of seven years’ pension money, i.e. £35K at today’s pension rate.

I have previously pointed out how means-testing of pensions retrospectively reduces the benefit received in return for contributions paid. This means nearly two thousand pounds per person per year. The proposed tax of £20K towards the cost of state ‘nursing care’, whether such care is received or not, was first proposed as a tax on estates on death, but is now suggested as a capital levy to be paid by every pensioner on reaching retirement age. If that were made retrospective, so that it applied to myself as well as to my colleagues, that would represent an additional confiscation of £80K.

There are several other examples of abandonment of principles, and I should be able to write about them at length, because they are actually very serious, although no one else appears to recognise this. If Oxford Forum were provided with adequate funding, we could be writing and publishing analyses on this issue which are currently being ignored in favour of the usual pro-collectivist arguments.

‘We hereby apply for financial support on a scale at least adequate for one active and fully financed research department. We make this appeal to all universities, corporations and individuals who consider themselves to be in a position to give support to socially recognised academic establishments.’ Charles McCreery, DPhil

* Arthur Seldon, The Great Pensions Swindle, Tom Stacey Books, London, 1970.