One of the great spats of 2016 has been over #WASPI a group of 50’s born women who are bearing the brunt of changes to the state pension laws dating back to 1995 and then accelerated in 2011. This means that as pension ages first equalise then rise, certain age cohorts have anything up to six years added onto their expected retirement age. This issue brought about a full on Twitter war between two of my very favourite bloggers, it felt like a family feud to me. Proud independent minds when they clash, as they must, are truly stellar but I digress. A brief description of the opposing sides would be Frances Copolla, the changes were unfortunate but necessary, and John Ward who said they were daylight robbery, pure and simple. The more bloody minded amongst you can search their blogs CopollaComment and The Slog, both highly recommended reading but the next rule is…
Rule 4 of Neo-liberalism is pensions are ours not yours. The ideal pension solution looks very much like George Osborne’s deficit reduction plan. His goal was a balanced budget, always 3 years in the future, whilst more than doubling the national debt. Current pension policy is broadly similar in that the state wants you to save much more for retirement so you can have a good pension that disappears the moment you go to collect it. Pensions have always been about keeping the wealthy, wealthy there to be used as their personal piggy bank whenever they felt like it. There was a time when the UK had one of the best funded national pension schemes in the world but then we, The Plebs, started doing something terribly unsporting, we started living longer. That sort of put a spanner in the works and it started threatening the livelihoods (no not yours, theirs) and business plans of the great and the good. They were Jolly Cross Indeed.
The fact that pensions are now nothing but a rip off is just that, a fact, ask any pension consultant. better still, I’ll illustrate with a few stories the evolution of the great pension scam. I could go back further but let’s start with Cap’n Bob aka Robert Maxwell who died in 1991. Fulsome tributes were paid to the erstwhile former Mirror Group owner… until it was discovered he was not the messiah, he was a very naughty boy… to the tune of £400 million (£400m was a lot of money back then) affecting 30,ooo people, Bad Bob had his fingers in the company pension pot but at least he did the decent thing when discovery became inevitable. Further reading available at LoveMoney and The Guardian
Fast forward to 2016 and rather than falling off a yacht our latest plunderer luxuriates on one as he figures out how to pay the least possible to former BHS workers who pensions have rather a large hole in them. Sir Phillip Green is a retailer with very few equals, he is extraordinarily gifted and rightfully very rich. I have no opinion on the rumour that BHS was allowed to go under to escape the pension liabilities, I’m sure it’s just a rumour. In both cases the state was forced (or will be forced) to make up the shortfalls but the pensioners lose out because they’re supposed to, it’s what pensions are for.
I could write a years worth of pension blogs but before I stop for now I must mention the state and it’s epic forays into pension plundering. The Neo-liberals love to point out that there’s nothing the state can do that won’t make things worse and of all things a Labour chancellor gifted them pensions. By scrapping the tax credits on pension share dividends he gave them a story of gross state incompetence that is still running to this day and which has cost pension companies between £100 and £150 billion pounds and rising. And the reason this was done? To save money, by taking money from people saving money, which would have saved money in the future but the chancellor needed that money now. I do hope that’s clear.
So it is about now I will have to break the bad news to #WASPI with a heavy heart. You’ve lost because there’s nothing left to fight, the war has moved on and you’re not even in it. The fight has been taken to the Boomer Generation because they have done far too well and the Neo-liberals want that money back and they’ll get it. I can smell their MO a mile off and it works like this.
Pensions must be made like benefits and stigmatised. Retirement will no longer be seen as a Good Thing and must be made so bad that you’ll do anything to avoid it such as working until you drop. Oh the pension carrot and happy long retirement will still be dangled, the story just convincing enough to keep you going but always three years into the future, saving incentives will come and go, initiatives taken to make the whole system complex beyond understanding. Always the promise there always just in front of you. This is how Neo-Liberals approach any problem, how can we make it work for us?
If you haven’t read these stories on the BBC you should. Time To Break Promises To Pensioners and Scrap Triple Lock Pensions Guarantee. So #WASPI that’s the current fight and unless your story is better than theirs, that your fight is our fight, you’ll have no battle to fight.The next target is the wealthy pensioners and all those juicey property assets with no debt attatched. Just think of the Big Scary Numbers they’ll use to terrify us into thinking pensions are unaffordablle.
The politicians we elect will be those who can best sell us the Neo-Liberal story. Hold that thought.
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