Age concern: David Cameron’s promise to protect pension rises is welcome but does not go far enough

A whiff of political calculation accompanies the Prime Minister’s moral fervour

Share

One of the standards by which any society measures its decency is its generosity towards the old. The Prime Minister, David Cameron, harped on this theme at the weekend, announcing that pensions would rise by at least 2.5 per cent a year over the next parliament if he were re-elected in 2015. “In a civilised society, knowing you’re going to have a decent state pension is a really powerful thing,” he said. 

A whiff of political calculation naturally accompanies the Prime Minister’s moral fervour concerning the need to grant people “dignity and security in their old age”. With the next general election less than a year-and-a-half away and with the Conservatives still lagging behind Labour in the polls – although by a smaller margin than a few months ago – Mr Cameron’s strategists are urging him to hunt down the one in three people who voted Conservative in 2010 but who do not plan to do so in 2015, according to the most recent polls.

The importance of pensioners as a voting bloc, meanwhile, has increased with every election, as the number of pensioners continues to rise both absolutely and proportionally. Already, 10 million Britons, or one in six of the population, are over the age of 65, while that number is expected to reach 19 million, or about one in four, by 2050. Back in 1908, when Britain introduced pensions, only half a million people were deemed eligible  to receive them, although the age threshold, admittedly, was then set at 70.

Political strategists are also aware that pensioners also vote more than other age groups. In the 2010 election, 76 per cent of over-65s cast votes, compared with only 44 per cent of those aged 18 to 24.

Mr Cameron may have a direct interest in seeking to be recognised as the pensioners’ friend, but this does not mean he is wrong to concentrate attention on this particular age group. It has become popular in some quarters to suggest that pensioners are being treated with kid gloves while younger age groups bear the brunt of the cuts, but this discourse should be rejected. It is not the case that pensioners get a good deal in modern Britain. On the contrary, we still treat the elderly in a miserly, begrudging fashion, and, if the basic state pension has risen markedly in the last few years, it has done so from a dismally low base.

The maximum basic state pension is still only £110 a week, or about £5,000 a year, a pittance in a country where fuel and food bills are so high.Moreover, massive changes are taking place in the workplace in the UK, marked by a rise in the proportion of self-employed and  part-time workers alongside shrinkage in the public sector. These trends mean that fewer people can expect to receive either a secure public-sector pension or a comfortable private-sector pension, let alone one based on their final earnings. Final-salary pensions are vanishing from the landscape; only 1.7 million people remain in such schemes compared with  five million 20 years ago.

Near-zero interest rates, furthermore, have wrecked the expectations of those who planned to top up their pensions with the interest earned on their savings.

While a significant minority of Britons can look forward to a very comfortable old age, therefore, the prospects for pensioners overall remain bleak. For all the Prime Minister’s soothing words about ensuring that people have “dignity and security”, millions of us clearly will have neither. Only a quantum rise in the state pension would ensure that standard was met, but whether any party will ever be courageous or foolhardy enough to propose such a drastic remedy is unlikely.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Business Development Manager (District Heating)

£55000 Per Annum plus company car and bonus scheme: The Green Recruitment Comp...

Lead Hand - QC

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Lead Hand - QCProgressive are recruiting...

Chemical Engineer/Project Coordinator

£40000 - £45000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Chemical Eng...

Sustainability Manager

Competitive: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: Scheme Manager (BREEAM)...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

The daily catch-up: knitting, why Ed wants to be PM and a colloquium of Indy-pedants

John Rentoul
Former N-Dubz singer Tulisa Contostavlos gives a statement outside Southwark Crown Court after her trial  

It would be wrong to compare brave Tulisa’s ordeal with phone hacking. It’s much worse than that

Matthew Norman
Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

A land of the outright bizarre
What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

The worst kept secret in cinema

A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

The new hatched, matched and dispatched

Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
Why do we have blood types?

Are you my type?

All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

Honesty box hotels

Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
Commonwealth Games 2014: Why weight of pressure rests easy on Michael Jamieson’s shoulders

Michael Jamieson: Why weight of pressure rests easy on his shoulders

The Scottish swimmer is ready for ‘the biggest race of my life’ at the Commonwealth Games
Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

Paranoid parenting is on the rise

And our children are suffering because of it
For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

Magna Carta Island goes on sale

Yours for a cool £4m
Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn