My devoted reader(s) will have gathered that I am not a great fan of the idea of government cuts. As far as I can see they reduce the amount of economic activity whilst hurting the vulnerable: I am one of the people who think that the rich are using the 2008 crash – an economic crisis that they created with the irresponsible behavior of the financial sector – to justify attacks on the poor.
One suggested area for cuts is the benefits paid to affluent pensioners, of which I am one. It is said that people are more secretive about their income than about their sex life, but I’m not: my pension is calculated at half of my salary as a college Principal, so it’s more than twice the average national wage, and it keeps up with inflation. And I’ve paid my mortgage off. I have no shame about being comfortably off, but I can see why there have been exploratory proposals asking whether (at a time of austerity) it is sensible for people like me to receive extra winter fuel allowance, free bus travel or TV licences. Yet even raising the very idea brings older commentators out in apoplectic rage*, and I can’t see why. Apart from selfishness, that is. Think for a moment: any benefits we get must be paid for by others who are working harder and earning less than us: this is not a good idea.
There’s an aspect of this in the general understanding that it would be scandalous to ask people who have high levels of savings (=wealth) or valuable homes (=wealth) to pay towards their care as they get old and inform. We seem to have sleep-walked into a position where people feel that leaving a fat sum from the sale of their house to their children is a human right: and the affected family members express the loudest outrage. I am not one of those who think the millennial generation is being consciously dished by us baby-boomers, but, again, the question must be asked: in a world without free lunches, who therefore pays ? It must, by definition, be those who are not expecting a large inheritance from their parents (or, to be fair, those whose parents died inexpensively, without needing years of costly care). Why are these policies not challenged, or at least discussed ?
Our media join the government in assuming that we are beings who act like the ‘economic man’ of academic textbooks, constantly seeking our own advantage. We’re always told “no-one likes paying tax”: well, I don’t mind at all. Any coverage of government budget announcements centre round the mantra “how this will affect you” rather than “how will this affect the country ?” or “what is the argument for these changes ?”. The case for discouraging fossil fuel use, for example, has almost been muted by this approach. The government will not touch OAP benefits because us grey-beards vote in large numbers, and they assume we will vote in our own narrow self-interest. Yet in many areas – go to any half-marathon and look at thousands of people running for charity – us humans are an unselfish bunch, and with encouragement could do more. Can’t the press or politicians see that ? Whatever happened to “ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country” ?
* there is one proposal that is just never discussed at all. This is that those on generous occupational pensions (i.e. me) should not get the state pension on top. I get twice the national average income in a pension, and then, each month, the nice government gives me £700 extra.