So, random political gargoyles on all sides of the octagon are spewing Claret-flecked yellow luncheon bile once more at poor Mr Cameron, who has pledged yet again to preserve the few minuscule benefits attached to growing old in Thatcher’s Britain, should he get elected in May.
One such neo-liberal, crypto-fascist Labour turdstrangler was interviewed just now, who recommends that benefits for the over-65s – I refer to extravagances like bus passes, a free eye test every two years and a generous £200 allowance towards the extra cost of heating our mansions in the wintertime – must be means-tested, to save the sixth wealthiest nation from bankruptcy.
I wonder, has he ever been means-tested? Does he in fact know anything of which his spastic colon speaks? Has he, dare I ask, ever actually worked? For a living?
I don’t mean spending two weeks in the summer hols gaining work ‘experience’ in Daddy’s office. I don’t mean mincing about fetching trays of skinny lattes from Starbucks as an intern in some fashionable London baboon enclosure. I don’t mean spending a couple of years running around after a junior minister as a Parliamentary wank-rag.
I do mean building stuff, fixing things, growing food, saving lives, killing foreigners and/or clearing up shit, probably on minimum wage and without the prospect of a post-ministerial sinecure fixing Government contracts for dodgy Chinese businessmen ‘below the radar’ for five grand a day, plus a big fat occupational pension.
Has he, in short, ever spent two hours on the phone to call-sponges in Carlisle, being hauled maybe five times by different departments through the same bum-numbing 25-page form, delving into every minute detail of his fully accountable existence and those of his partner or spouse, his children and anyone else who might be living at the same address, who could be wrung-out for a bit of extra money – how many rooms/floors does the address have, and how many rooms are there on each floor, and are the rooms in the middle of the house or at the sides, and who is in occupation of the rooms, and when, and has he checked yet for pennies down the back of the sofa?
Thence to spend seven weeks or more sending off further pointless printed ‘evidence’ each week of financial items he has already ‘told us about’, together with years’ worth of bank statements offering ‘proof’ of the amounts and the dates of the month on which they are received? And are the dates the same each month or different, and are the amounts the same or different, and will the amounts and dates be the same or different in the future? And can he prove it?
And then to have the proofs he has submitted, originals of contracts stating clearly that the tiny annuity income he receives is fixed in perpetuity (by statute, so no need to ask) thrown back at him because the dates of the perfectly valid contracts are out of date, according to some arbitrary but unstated dateline dreamed-up by some faceless desk-donkey, tasked with grabbing-back anything?
And then to be told in the space of a single letter that he is entitled to receive the benefit, only he is no longer entitled to the benefit as the qualifying date has passed and he must go through the whole process over again, even if the applicant’s circumstances have not changed?
Believe me, that can happen. Somebody made that rule. Yes, they did.
Let’s look at it another way.
Most older people I know (principally, me) contribute massively to the economy, even past retirement age. They pay tax on any income over £10,000 – the State Pension if awarded in full to a male over 65 is only a couple of pounds shy of that figure.
They visit places and buy stuff to keep them going in retirement, like expensive guitars and purple hair rinse, which is why the marketing monkeys have christened them ‘Silver Surfers’.
They are, many of them, actively engaged in the Third Sector, charity work which delivers the vital social services local authorities can no longer afford on the public purse. And many provide valuable caring services at home with no reward.
The point about bus passes is that they get us out of our cars and onto public transport, creating a public financial benefit through helping to keep the transport system going, reducing traffic with its huge social costs, getting us out of our houses and into the shopping centres.
The point about regular eye tests is that if we have not been persuaded to abandon our cars, we are safer drivers; and are less likely to present the NHS at a late stage with cataracts and age-related macular degeneration, requiring expensive surgery and drugs.
The point about the heating allowance is that it provides a very modest grant of additional pension money with which to buy Christmas presents for our grandchildren. (We will already have paid our extortionate heating bills out of our regular pensions and have nothing left to celebrate with.)
Seriously, winter kills an estimated 38 thousand additional people each year, most of them elderly. If adding a couple of hundred pounds to the annual (taxable) pension in a lump sum at a critical time of year can help to keep hospital beds free for emergency cases, it is saving public money.
And the point about keeping us on the move and relatively comfortable and in touch with the world and the life of the mind is that we remain healthier for longer; less prone to dementia (unless we are constantly being means-tested, at which juncture I go ape).
And the point about keeping us happy is that we vote in greater numbers and more Conservatively than the average van-driver who believes that Nigel Farage is an actual human, and the point about pensions is that we’ve paid for them all our working lives, so fuck you.
I rest my case.