Sunday, 25 November 2018

Pesnioners' Perks



The UK's full state retirement pension  is currently £164.35 per week.  This is not an automatic payment for all.  It has to by paid for by what were called "stamps" in my younger days. The stamps were quite pretty -  purple or mauve I seem to member. When you changed jobs or got the sack you were told to collect your "cards."  The card  on which the stamps were stuck was your record of National Insurance Contributions.   I presume there are more sophisticated methods of recording them now.

Only those with a full record of National Insurance Contributions get the full pensions.  Once upon a time there was a "married couples" rate this has now been discontinued: the two two entitlements are calculated separately.

That £164.35 per week is pretty mean by international standards.  According to the World Economic Forum it represents only 29% of the UK's  working wage.  The US rate is 49% of their working wage, the OECD average is 63% and the EU average  is 71%  (so it will go up even higher if we leave.)

Rather than adjust the basic level UK pensioners have been mollified by ad hoc extras.  The first was a Christmas Bonus of £10 which began in the 1960s.  The ex 14th Earl of Home, who transformed himself  into Sir Alec Douglas Home and who was either Leader of the Opposition or Prime Minister  at the time referred to it loftily as a "donation" 

We still get it and it is administered separately to the next perk, which was a Winter Fuel Allowance of £200 (£300 when you're over 80) to help us keep warm in the winter.  That was introduced by the Labour Government in 1997.  I seem to remember it was announced just before the election but that may be unfair.

Free bus basses for pensioners were introduced, again by a Labour Government, in 2008

The current controversy relates to the free TV licence, which was introduced  by a Labour Government, in 1999/2000.  Not  all pensioners receive this: you have to be over 75.  The present Conservative Government has decided that as from 2020 the government will no longer continue to fund  this, but the BBC can if it wants to..

This is obviously an absurd shift of responsibility.

It is up to the government an parliament to decided whether TV licences for pensioners, those on benefits or whatever should be part of the Welfare State or not. And if they decide they should should  they should clearly meet the cost  from general taxation.  To foist the responsibility onto the BBC (it would cost them £745 million a year rising to £1 billion by 2029/30 due to the UK’s ageing population.) is clearly wrong.

It is hard not to see this move as  a Tory plot to make life more difficult for the BBC, whose success they seem to resent because it fails to fit in with their philosophy of  "public secotr bad public sector good."  Maybe that's unfair too.

My own view is that I would gladly forgo all these perks except for the bus pass. 

Like many pensioners, my state pension is supplemented by my pension from my employment.  (I paid for that too)  Together they do not add up to the mega-bucks ex bankers and CEOs seem to require, but they keep me comfortably  so that I have no need for either the winter fuel allowance or the free TV licence.  I have always given the former away to those who ware more likely to need it (half to Shelter and half to the Big Issue in the North). 

As the Free TV licence doesn't come in cash I've never passed that on and maybe I should.  Sadly I've never made any special arrangement for the £10 Douglas Home donation, which was quite a significant amount when it was introduced but trivial when I became entitled to it.

If these perks were withdrawn for all pensioners who pay income tax  but were continued to be paid for those whose pensions taken together do not exceed the tax free allowance,  (HMRC already has the record) this could be achieved without the stigma and extra bureaucracy needed for means testing.  No one outside the family would know whether the perks had been received or not

However if bus passes  were issued only to those on low incomes, than all pensioners using them would be adversing their relative poverty.  Hence I believe we should all continue to receive the free bus pass, though shouldn't mind a token payment of, say 50p pre ride. Indeed, I think there is a case for all public transport to be available at token rates, to persuade us  to use it in preference to cars and so cut down on both congestion and pollution.

In the longer term, we need to look seriously to the changes we need to make to provide  everyone one with an adequate retirement pension that doesn't  need to be supplemented bu perks.  If other countries can do it, why can't we? 

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