Peer suggests making retired people “earn” their pensions

A member of the House of Lords has recently suggested that senior citizens could be made to “earn” part of their state pensions through performing community services. David Kingman asks if this would be a workable idea

Lord Michael Bichard, a former civil servant turned crossbench peer, drew criticism this week for suggesting that older people could be compelled to “earn” some of their pension income through performing services to the community.

The peer – who sits on an important House of Lords committee which looks at the possible impacts of demographic change – argued that more “innovative” solutions need to be considered if Britain is to pay for the costs of its ageing population.

“Encourage older people not just to be a negative burden”

He suggested that it was unfair for the government not to expect retired people to do anything in return for their pensions while, at the same time, working-age benefit recipients are now often required to participate in controversial “workfare” schemes if they wish to retain their state support.

He provided the following quote to the BBC:

“We are now prepared to say to people who are not looking for work, if you don’t look for work you don’t get benefits, so if you are old and you are not contributing in some way or another maybe there is some penalty attached to that. Are we using all of the incentives at our disposal to encourage older people not just to be a negative burden on the state but actually be a positive part of society?”

His stance was supported by Professor James Sefton, a former advisor to the treasury, who argued when addressing the committee that young people are currently subsidising the older generation through substantial financial transfers from young to old (these include the state pension, healthcare funding and spending on universal old-age benefits, such as Winter Fuel Payments).

Professor Sefton claimed to be carrying out research at Imperial College London, alongside his colleague Dr David McCarthy, which shows that, as he put it:

“The current generation are very heavy contributors to the public purse, whereas previous generations have benefited from the public purse.”

As he explained, young people currently face financial pressures which didn’t exist for previous generations to the same extent, including higher house prices, high youth unemployment, rising public debt and increased tuition fees. As a result, they are having to rely more on private transfers of wealth, through families, than young people in other European countries.

By contrast, he argued, the older generation is still receiving generous state support, in the forms referred to above, which mostly comes from younger taxpayers.

Furious response

Lord Bichard’s idea drew a furious response from pensioners’ groups, several of which made the argument that many older people already do a lot to help out other people, particularly family members.

Michelle Mitchell, director general of Age UK, emphasised the role already played by older people in providing voluntary services. She said that over a third of people aged 65 to 74 volunteer, and a high proportion of the over-75s did so as well. Almost a million elderly people act as free carers for their family and friends, and a third of working-age adults rely on grandparents to provide free childcare.

The leaders of Saga and the National Pensioners Convention also criticised the idea when speaking to the BBC.

Could this work? And would it be fair?

The biggest stumbling block to this idea is likely to be that the majority of older people will feel they have already done enough to pay for their pensions through making National Insurance contributions during their careers.

Of course, these have already been spent by the government, rather than being invested to pay for today’s pensions, so the idea that contributions are held in some kind of fund – as many people believe – is an illusion.

However, there is also a strong moral argument that people who pay NI contributions have a right to expect to receive a pension from the government because they feel they have been promised one, regardless of who actually pays for it. This is the generally accepted understanding of the contract behind the basic State Pension, and any changes to that will be very hard to sell politically.

The comparison Lord Bichard makes between his idea and workfare is interesting in this regard, though, because many working-age people who lose their jobs will have been paying NI contributions during the period when they were employed, and so could argue that they have already paid for the benefits which they receive as well.

The goal of workfare schemes is to encourage unemployed people to return to the labour market by attaching strings to their out-of-work benefits. Recent schemes in the UK have required benefit-claimants to spend a certain number of hours a week doing public service, either through tasks like picking up leaves on behalf of the council, or, controversially, providing free labour to major employers who participate in workfare schemes, including Asda, Boots, McDonald’s and Poundland.

Proponents claim that workfare discourages the work-shy from sponging off the state, while also equipping people with the skills that employers are looking for; but critics argue that it forces people to waste valuable time doing unproductive tasks which they could spend looking for proper jobs, while the companies which participate effectively have their wage bills subsidised by the government, creating economic distortions. There is little firm evidence that such schemes actually have an impact on reducing unemployment.

If retired people were put on similar schemes to the ones that exist already, there could be problems with them taking opportunities away from younger people, particularly in retail businesses, which would no-doubt be eager to gain free staff.

The protests from the old-age lobby may well also have hit upon a serious point; many retired people do give their time to valuable activities, and if they were no longer able to do them it could have unintended negative consequences (particularly within families who rely on childcare).

For these reasons, Lord Bichard’s idea would be difficult to implement, as well as probably being unpopular. As the population ages, it would be sensible to try to get older people to contribute more to the economy – but a better means of doing that would be to simply increase the retirement age, rather than the kind of halfway house which Lord Bichard has suggested.

Posted on: 31 October, 2012

24 thoughts on “Peer suggests making retired people “earn” their pensions

  1. Barry Pearson

    This article gives a balanced view of this topic. Here are some extra points to consider:

    This particular debate is largely about bureaucratic versus voluntary transfers of resources. Do we make money or other assistance flow via state-administered means or via charity and private means?

    An example comes from Professor James Sefton above: “young people … are having to rely more on private transfers of wealth, through families, than young people in other European countries. By contrast the older generation is still receiving generous state support, in the forms referred to above, which mostly comes from younger taxpayers.”

    So he acknowledges that money IS flowing both ways, from old to young via families, (as it always has been throughout the ages), and from young to old via the state, (a more recent method). Important questions include: what are the relative amounts? What would happen if attempts were made to change the balance?

    Lord Bichard was the ultimate bureaucrat! The Benefits Agency is the largest alternative to and contradiction to charity in the UK. Initiative, innovation, compassion, and empathy, are replaced by rules and processes and targets.

    Charity is patchy. Local charities can be brilliant where the right people are involved, or non-existent otherwise. Ditto for family involvement. Bureaucrats might seek to spread the excellence everywhere. But human nature means that bureaucratic systems tend to spread mediocrity, not excellence; the latter can’t be captured by rules and processes.

    Lord Bichard is exactly the wrong person to consider how to exploit charitable and family involvement. It would be interesting to get proposals from charity leaders on how to balance giving and receiving across ages and wealths. It might need legislation, but to enable and encourage it, not to enforce it. Regulation can kill charity.

    Three problems with Lord Bichard’s proposal that I haven’t seen identified:

    1. As soon as benefits are conditional on work, an entire “industry” is needed to to identify who can work and how. In effect, the equivalent of the “Work Capability Assessment” (run by Atos Healthcare) for claimants of “Employment and Support Allowance” would be needed for pensioners, who obviously have a complete range from ability to disability.

    2. The proposal at the start of the BBC article “Retired people could be encouraged to do community work such as caring for the very old” would require Criminal Records Bureau checks, (used for those interacting with children and vulnerable adults), probably at “Enhanced disclosure” level. So would many other sorts of community work intended to relieve the burden on taxpayers: the greatest costs to taxpayers tend to be those involving personal involvement with people.

    3. Who would make the judgment that people had contributed enough to receive their pension, and how? Judgments about work done are normally made by managers, with disputes sorted out by tribunals, etc.

  2. Barry Pearson

    Here is some personal background which may explain my views on this topic.

    In the late 1990s the Department of Social Security (as it was then) decided to replace its IT infrastructure. (“ACCORD” project). I was one of the business analysts for a consortium bidding for the work. I spent a year or two helping to study and model the benefits system and the welfare state as a whole, working with experts in the field including welfare advisers, etc.

    When I lost my job and decided to call it retirement, I called myself the “Child Support Analysis” small independent think-tank, and set out to devise something better for when the new child support legislation failed, as I knew it would. My very large website of that name, (easily found, non-commercial, no registration needed, but not updated recently), shows how bureaucratic systems fail when they interact with emotional topics such as children, money, and work.

    Part of the problem with the child support system was that the government was keen to reduce tax-expenditure by reducing Income Support payments where child support was being paid. This reveals the sorts of conflicts that arise between “private” and “state” flows of money. Both parents and children were better off making private arrangements for small amounts of child support, because Income Support was not reduced. But taxpayers were worse off this way.

    Eventually I concluded that reducing my taxes (I’m childfree) was not worth the misery caused the bureaucratic machine called the Child Support Agency (CSA). Nor did it justify the consequences of the perverse incentives typically involved with means-tested schemes like those. I even had a live on-air argument in 2003 with Frank Field MP on the BBC’s News 24 Channel! (Transcript on the website).

    I am wary about any proposal to reduce taxes by using the state to replace less formal systems of resource transfer and other assistance. Often the CSA was simply moving poverty and misery around, at great administrative cost to the taxpayer because of the intrusion into people’s private lives and the human failures associated with IT systems.

    One lesson was that state involvement can kill less formal arrangements. Once the CSA took money from the non-resident parent, he or she would typically cease the informal payments. (Why pay twice?) This tended to drive a wedge between the parents, to the detriment of all concerned.

  3. Barry Pearson

    After a few days of thinking about this article and my own comments on it I’ve identified what can easily be missed in such discussions.

    We have two systems of care and support:

    1. The formal system, administered by central and local government and paid for from central and local taxation.

    2. An informal system, handled ad-hoc by families and charities.

    Both systems do much more than intergenerational transfers, but that is an element of both of them. Neither is adequate on its own; if either ceased, there would be massive strains on the other. Both have to be taken into account in debates; any discussion about one of them is likely to be extended or countered by advocates of the other.

    Arguably, neither is adequately designed for the 21st Century, and they don’t work together in perfect harmony! In fact, there is probably inadequate knowledge of HOW they fit together, partly because there appears to be little detailed documentation of the intergenerational transfers of the informal system. How big are the informal transfers both from young to old and from old to young within families (etc)?

    How do these transfers interact with pension amounts? The cost of child-care is a known problem; how much of a role can/do older people in a family play? The cost of long-term care for the elderly is also a known problem; how much of a role can/do younger people in a family play? What are the implications for the incomes of older people if they have to pay for their own long term care? What does this do to inheritance by younger people?

    I am not about to propose any new policies! I don’t have sufficient knowledge of the numbers. But both systems will be part of any solutions.

  4. Barry Pearson

    Another observation as a result of a few days of thought:

    Much of the debate about intergenerational problems is about people from (say) 18 onwards. They are involved in tuition fees, work and taxation, receipt of benefits and welfare and care, paying for or owning housing, etc.

    But that leaves a big “sink” of money – children up to 16/17/18. (In full time education, but pre-college and pre-work). They are a major recipient of older-to-younger transfers, of course, because they need resources and can’t contribute resources.

    If “each generation should pay its own way” means anything, it surely means that, on average, an individual should contribute to and receive from the “society” approximately the same amount over his or her life-time. (The amount will be different from any other individual). If every person was individually in life-time balance (or a little more), it would be hard to blame them. This is a better way of thinking about generations than criticising people simply for belonging to a particular generation!

    But can we really say that people just going to college or work at 16/17/18 should be considered to be in debt to society because of all those resources they have received? Of course not! They have typically had no choices, no autonomy, no opportunities to contribute. Fairness says that people’s “life-time balance” should start at zero when they start one of college or work.

    So who IS in debt as a result of those resources? Surely this should be their parents. They were the ones with the choices. They received and disposed of some of those resources, and they took advantage of others (such as schools for their children’s education). So the “life-time balance” of parents should be depleted by the resources that society has contributed to their children.

    This is compatible with recent proposals for limiting the amounts paid to parents for their children. Children cost society money just as old-age does, but children are optional for any particular parents.

    The cost to society of children should be included in any accounting for intergenerational transfers. This applies both to the formal system (Child Benefit, schools, etc) and the informal system (care by grandparents).

  5. John Taylor

    Barry,

    Your waffle above is a key weapon that your generation continues to use when seeking to cover up your interventional fraud’s for a few more years. David Willet’s book was also full of it.

    Full of complex, endless and often abstract discussions about intergenerational politics that never reach any conclusions. The truth behind the baby boomers intergenerational fraud is much much more simple.

    Your generation has forced (via democracy) this and previous governments to divert as much money to your generation at the expense of other generations. The most glaring example is that the state pension-index link was broken in 1980, it was re-established in 2010 along with a host of other pensioner benefits that your generation has awarded itself

    Timing is the key to generational fraud. Cut pensions one decade, increases them in three decades time. Free Uni for us, charge the next generation. Social care paid via the individual, make the National Insurance payers pay, just when we stop paying it.

  6. Barry Pearson

    There are various stages in life when intergenerational transfers of resources take place. The article here (and elsewhere on this website) discusses “being old” (especially pensions). I added another in one of my comments above: “having children”. Here is another stage:

    “Death” is a major cause of intergenerational transfer of resources. When old people die, there is a significant transfer of resources from older to younger, often within families. All those houses owned by older people which younger people want to use eventually cease to be owned by older people because they have died.

    Perhaps part of the problem is simply that older people are not dying when younger people wish they would. They live for years, sometimes decades, longer than everyone expected when policies for the future were being decided.

    Presumably policies for the future now need to take into account the fact that today’s younger people will probably also live longer on average than might casually be expected.

  7. Barry Pearson

    John Taylor:

    1. You mention “baby boomers” and “your generation”. Perhaps you think there was a baby boom that started about 1946 and ended about 1965? There wasn’t! (See “The myth of the UK baby-boom”).

    There was a “baby pop” from about 1946 to about 1948, peaking at 1946. (I was born in 1947). Then there was a baby boom from about 1955 to about 1974, peaking at 1965. So the peaks were about 19 years apart. Many of the children born during the “baby boom” had parents who were born during the “baby pop”. They were almost separate generations.

    It is essential to be specific in discussions, because the characteristics of the two cohorts were very different. (And the real “baby boomers” will start to claim their pensions about 2020, their claims will peak about 2030, and will have finished by 2040).

    2. My generation didn’t force governments to do anything! We simply lived in a country where things happened that we barely understood and had no control over. (I promise I won’t blame younger people for our entry into the Gulf War in 2003. They were simply living in a country where things happened that they had no control over).

    Perhaps 99% of us never had our hands near the levers of power. I have never lived in a ward or constituency where my vote could make the slightest difference to who got elected.

    Even politicians in those days probably had far less information than is readily available now. No WWW; no FOI Act; little or no demographic modeling by think tanks, etc. The rest of us couldn’t predict the consequences of our actions. We simply did what appeared sensible at the time, which was probably what today’s younger people would have done were they in that situation.

    I don’t recall the sort of things you blame us for ever being in political manifestos. There was never an option to vote for or against those things. And few of us were political activists; we had our lives to lead.

    3. When I went to University, I was one of about 5% of my year to do so. So when young people complain that I got my tuition fees paid for, only the top 5% are justified in that complaint. The rest wouldn’t have got to University in those days, but now far more of them can do so.

    4. If today’s state pension and benefits are left unchanged, they will be available to today’s younger people when they become older. They are not labeled with our names; they are available to people who simply arrive at that stage in their lives.

    But there are pressures, including from the Intergenerational Foundation, to reduce those benefits. So they might not still be available to today’s younger people when they get older.

    It is important that policies should cater both for today’s pensioners and for the next generation’s pensioners. We don’t want today’s younger people to say, when they arrive at pension age (as they surely will): “I wish we hadn’t persuaded governments to reduce state resources for older people, because now that we are older we need them”.

    But today’s younger people can take comfort from the fact that the government has said that it will not make the new higher-rate state pension available to current pensioners. So I won’t get it, but you might. (I guess today’s pensioners don’t carry that much weight with governments!)

    John: you see today’s snapshot of the ongoing history of the UK, and you don’t like it. I saw a different snapshot when I was born into severe austerity (and rationing), and brought up in a council flat on a council estate which would probably not be acceptable nowadays. I didn’t spend my time blaming the generations living in the UK while those conditions developed. They were as powerless then as I was later.

  8. Barry Pearson

    John Taylor:

    I said above “I don’t recall the sort of things you blame us for ever being in political manifestos. There was never an option to vote for or against those things.”

    I have now found those manifestos (see “British Party Election Manifestos since 1945”). They DO talk about some of the things you mention: but they don’t do so in the way you imply. For example, the 1979 Conservative Party manifesto talks of increasing pensions and the 1983 Conservative Party manifesto talks of relating pensions to actual price increases. (I voted Conservative in these elections).

    The Labour Party manifestos make similar statements. And both parties talked of keeping inflation low and protecting vulnerable people from inflation.

    In effect, LONG before my generation were pensioners, we were voting for parties that promised to improve things for pensioners. There weren’t any other parties to vote for! This is pretty well a constant. Even people who are not pensioners have grandparents or parents who are, and know that they themselves will eventually be pensioners. Pensioner’s votes are spread across the political spectrum.

    I recommend that anyone who thinks in terms of “intergenerational fraud” (whatever that means) reads those manifestos. Not only do they show the options available for voters to choose, but they also describe the background to the inclusion of those options in the manifestos. They show the state of the country at the time, the problems we were all facing, and why we were making the decisions that we did.

    There was no fraud. Just people struggling in a country where things happened that we barely understood and had no control over, so we simply did what appeared right at the time.

  9. Barry Pearson

    John Taylor:

    If you think it is OK to criticise me and others for what you consider to be bad things that have happened, you must also give us credit for the good things that have happened. Here are some things that I guess you will think are good which happened AFTER I got the vote at 21:

    Reduction of the voting age from 21 to 18 (1969). Reduction of the minimum age of an MP (and I think other elected officials) from 21 to 18 (2006).

    Increase of the minimum school leaving age from 15 to 16 (1972). Then gradually over the decades, increase of the proportion going to university from about 5% to about 35%. With a corresponding increase in the average age at end of full-time education from just over 15 to about 19.

    Introduction of Child Benefit which gives an allowance to the first child as well (1977). In contrast to Family Allowance (in my parents’ day) which didn’t pay for the oldest child (me!)

    Removal of the default retirement age, too late for me to benefit (2011). Upgrade to a larger flat-rate state pension, but not for current pensioners like me (2016).

    There are many other things that have happened that have made the UK a better place for younger people than for the people who drove the changes. For example, life expectancy (at birth) from about 68 when I was born to about 77 now. The UK is mostly more enlightened, with greater tolerance and acceptance as a result of various equalities and human rights legislation.

    In contrast to a narrow view resulting from highly selective analysis, generations typically DO try to leave things in a better state for later generations. They often temporarily fail in specific areas for all sorts of reasons including external factors beyond their control. But gradually things improve, often driven by people who don’t personally benefit from the changes but who simply think these are the right things to do. (For example, what sort of MPs originally brought in legislation to allow women MPs? Obviously men, not women! What sort of voters chose the government that legislated for the voting age to be reduced from 21 to 18? Obviously voters who were at least 21!)

    There ARE people who try to thwart the political process for their own sake or for their employers. These include lobbyists, media owners, heads of Cartels and monopolies, etc. But normal citizens simply don’t have the necessary resources and influence. Or desire.

  10. John Taylor

    Barry,

    As with many baby boomers (I suspect your an old baby boomer, or slightly older), your math seems a little out, when discussing generational politics.

    The reduction in voting age in 1969 was made FOR the baby boomer generation. The introduction of Child Benefit in 1977 was introduced FOR the baby boomers just when they were parents. The grabbing baby boomer lobby are NOW clamouring for it to be means tested. Timing again.

    Your dodgy math is shared by the baby boomer champions (Daily Mail & Express). They still claim (emotional backmail) that today’s pensioners are responsible for the victory in WW2. Whilst there are still many WW2 veterans alive & well today that will forever deserve gratitude – they must be aged >85 and will represent less than 1% of today’s pensioner population.

    By the way – the pension- index link was cut in 1980 to help reduce YOUR generations tax burden. The WW2 generation were retiring just at this time. Nice reward, you gave them (shameful). Don’t worry though Barry, it’s been restored 30 years later. Timing again!

    Do you really think that your greedy generation can convince younger generations that the removal of the default retirement age and increase in pension age is a gift from you to us. The retirement age has been increased to make younger generation pay for the retirement of YOUR generation who retired on mass in their 50s on absurdly over generous and unaffordable final salary schemes.

    The attitude of the lovely grey lobbyist, Dr Ross Altman is almost schizophrenic on this issue. She is all for younger generations working into their 70s. But she’s livid that women in her generation have been asked to work an additional 2 years. Do as we say, not as we do.

    Can you really type about how YOUR generation have helped today’s university students, with a straight keyboard? You couldn’t make it up!

    You clearly have a conscience, however it really is futile trying to defend YOUR generations treatment of previous pension generations and now younger generations. It comes down to simple Math and facts – these beat waffle, everytime.

  11. Barry Pearson

    John Taylor:

    Some people appear to think that people of the post-war generation, by sheer voting power and demographic political influence, ensured that governments made policies and legislation that favoured this generation at the expense of others.

    But how? What specifically did those individuals do?

    I have written about this at length: See my article “The myth of excessive political influence by the post-war generation”. One resource I used was electoral manifestos since 1945 because they illustrate the options available to voters. All parties consistently promised to improve pensions and housing and reduce inflation.

    For example: 1979, Conservative: “We will honour the increases in retirement pensions which were promised just before the election. However, like others, pensioners have suffered from the high taxes and catastrophic inflation of Labour’s years. It is wrong to discourage people who wish to work after retirement age, and we will phase out the ‘earnings rule’ during the next Parliament. The Christmas Bonus, which the last Conservative government started in 1972, will continue. We will exempt war widows’ pensions from tax and provide a pension for pre-1950 widows of ‘other ranks’ who do not receive one at present”.

    Some people appear to think that people of the post-war generation acted in wrong ways that people of other generations wouldn’t have done in similar circumstances. (You talk of “greed”).

    But what specifically did those individuals do that was wrong and that others wouldn’t have done?

    It is only valid to blame someone if they did something they shouldn’t have done, or didn’t do something they should have done. And “should/shouldn’t” implies knowledge of the consequences and the ability to change those consequencies. See my article “Some principles for Intergenerational Justice”.

    The post-war generation didn’t unduly influence governments to do anything! We simply lived in a country where things happened that we barely understood and had virtually no control over. Perhaps 99% of us never had our hands near the levers of power. (I have never lived in a ward or constituency where my vote could make the slightest difference to who got elected). Even politicians in those days probably had far less information than is readily available now. No world wide web; no Freedom of Information Act; little or no demographic modeling by think tanks, etc. We weren’t coordinating our (mythical!) activism via Twitter … or email … or fax!

    Hardly any of us could plausibly have predicted the strategic consequences of our actions. Who could have predicted the large increase in single people wanting their own house? Or the amount of immigration? Or the increase in longevity? We simply did what appeared sensible at the time, which was probably what today’s younger people would have done had they been in that situation.

    Part of the mythical story is that merely by existing, without having to do anything, the post-war generation caused governments to act in unfortunate ways! If governments did behave that way, that is the fault of the governments, not the post-war generation.

    (The retirement age hasn’t increased; the default age has been removed. In fact, some younger people complained that this would enable older people to stay in their jobs longer and reduce the jobs available to younger people. Obviously the increase in state pension age is a necessary consequence of later average entry to the workplace because of the increased average age of end of full time education, and the increase in longevity. In my year about 5% of people went to university. Now about 35% do. Isn’t that an improvement?)

  12. Barry Pearson

    John Taylor:

    Earlier I talked of “some things that I guess you will think are good which happened AFTER I got the vote at 21”. (Votes, Child Benefit, end of default retirement, etc).

    I didn’t say who (if any specific group) those things were intended FOR. Lots of things happen because “they are a good idea” or “their time has come”, and benefit both the people who proposed them and also later people.

    It is pointless trying to identify motives in terms of generations. A generation is a group of people who have an “accident of birth” in common. A generation isn’t conscious, doesn’t have emotions, and can’t plausibly be collectively blamed.

    The post-war generation comprises about 10 million individuals. We span the complete spectrum of politics; of financial state (from rich to broke); of parental and social standing; of education; of health, of aspirations; of number of children. (But we probably don’t include rich footballers or WAGS!) We do not share a single agenda, strategy, motive, or degree of activism; in fact, we may sometimes not even be on speaking terms with one-another!

    See my article “More about what David Willets got wrong in his book “The Pinch””, which criticises him for treating the baby-boom cohort as a sort of “collective intelligence”, to which criticism can be applied, injunctions be made, and motives assigned. Apart from the book’s sub-title itself, he said “the boomers increasingly came to think of their house as … their own personal goldmine”; “however, we thought we were richer and … we all became alchemists, converting paper increases in the value of our homes into extra money to spend”. Perhaps he and some others did that, but many of us didn’t.

  13. John Taylor

    Barry,
    ‘Collective Intelligence’, is the essential ingredient needed to commit intergenerational fraud. Do you really doubt it?

    Look at the collective and outspoken reaction of the baby boomer lobby, whenever a politician mentions the possibility of means testing pensioner benefits – including the new ones you have awarded yourselves. The teddies are well and truly thrown out of the pram. The reaction of the ‘collective intelligence’ isn’t even subtle, ‘we (pensioners) will vote out any Government who seek to reduce our benefits’.

    You might have chosen to forget a multitude of articles that appeared in newspaper and magazines in the 1990s. They usually had a picture of a tanned grey haired couple about 60 YOA, looking very active in swim wear, or enjoying a romantic walk on a beach. These articles boasted that upon retirement, your generation would refuse to adjust its lifestyle upon retirement (as previous ones had). They boasted that their collective voting power would be used to make younger generations pay for this. This was my hook for IG politics.

    You claim of ignorance or not having ‘knowledge of the consequences’ doesn’t wash Barry. Most of the consequence requires just a basic grasp of math. Like this:

    Breaking state pension index link (1980) – results in gradual relative devaluation of the state pension, less money to pensioners, less contributions from NI payers.

    Reinstating link (with a few bonuses) (2010) – results in gradual relative increase in the state pension, more money to pensioners, more contributions from NI payers

    Awarding yourselves free bus travel in 2006 results in increases to child fares. Simple math.

    As for not predicting increases in longevity. Are you sure? We were fine with the predictions. In light of these predictive, some countries (Holland) made changes pension provision changes in the 1980s. We (you) decided to collectively stick our heads in the sand and delay changes until your generation had crossed the finish line. The UK should have made changes to deal with the ageing population decades ago – we had to wait until your generation were exempt.

    Barry, you don’t have to get on with your boomer neighbour in order for ‘collective intelligence’ to work. You may hate your 65 year old neighbour, him Beatles, you Stones, him Tory, you Labour. As long as your messages are consistent when the politician visits the houses on your street (means testing pensioners – Bad! means testing families – good!) , then BINGO ‘collective intelligence’ works fine.

  14. Barry Pearson

    John Taylor:

    “Generations” cannot make decisions and cannot be to blame for anything! They have no consciousness! It is individual people who decide to do or not do things.

    It is only valid to blame someone if they did something they shouldn’t have done, or didn’t do something they should have done. And “should/shouldn’t” implies knowledge of the consequences and the ability to change those consequences. It obviously doesn’t imply simply “living in a country where, in retrospect, unwanted things happened” nor “living in a country without power to change things for the better”.

    Anyone who had tried to influence government policy (as I did for nearly a decade – see my “Child Support Analysis” website) knows just how hard it is to do so as a “normal citizen”. You really need to be in government yourself, or at least be highly active and influential with government. Even then success is patchy.

    The post-war generation didn’t unduly influence governments to do anything! See my recent article “The myth of excessive political influence by the post-war generation”. (My generation, like all generations, is only a minority of the electorate). The article also points out that there appear to be cases where being in a large cohort is a disadvantage. Some improvements can’t be afforded because too many people would have to be helped.

    And if you still believe there was a baby-boom that started about 1945 and ended about 1965, see my article “The myth of the UK baby-boom”. There wasn’t.

    Governments typically do what the ministers have made up their mind to do, and often they are not representative of the population. Often they are not aligned to what many MPs want, and typically not aligned to what the MPs of other parties want. The power of the electorate isn’t really to vote for the policies they want. It is to vote against the government when we are fed up with them. Even then the government is typically decided by “swing seats”, and many, probably most, people don’t live in them. (I have never lived in a swing constituency).

    I didn’t break the index link, nor reinstate it. (If it hadn’t been broken, I would apparently now be getting about £30 per week more). Neither did I ever hint to the government that they should do these. (I can’t find “breaking the link” in the Conservative party electoral manifesto of 1979. Besides, that election was really about whether the unions or the government ran the country). I’ve never used free bus travel. If you want to blame someone for these, find out who made those decisions and blame them.

    I’ll bet that had you been living at that time, you would have made the same sorts of decisions. The decisions we made weren’t malicious – they appeared reasonable at the time. While union leaders appeared to conspire, the rest of us didn’t. We were struggling to live our lives.

  15. John Taylor

    Your lack of faith in democracy is quite staggering. Your lack of knowledge of the election strategies that ALL paries adopt is also certainly a convenient oversight.

    I’m sure that you’re aware that politcal parties ‘test’ their policies (using various methods) with the voting public, before they adopt them.

    In summary you seem to be saying that (to you) it

    ‘appeared reasonable’ to break the pension-index link in 1980 (aged 33) and it also ‘appeared reasonable’ to restore it in 2010 (aged 63). It ‘appeared reasonable’ for there to be no link whilst you were paying NI, but it also ‘appears reasonable’ for there to be a link when you stopped paying NI.

    Did it ‘appear reasonable’ for pensioners before 2006 to make a contribution to their public transport costs, but after 2006 it ‘appears reasonable’ for the costs to be sent to the taxpayer.

    I’m sure that (in your 20s) it ‘appeared reasonable’ for the taxpayer to pay your Uni costs and give you a grant. It now seems to ‘appear reasonable’ to your generation that today’s students leave Uni with £50,000 debt.

    If you think the past should be left alone, then we’ll look at the here and now. During your NI paying years it seemed to ‘appear reasonable’ for social care costs to be paid for by the individual and their estate. Now a lot of baby boomers think that now it ‘appears reasonable’ for this to be paid via NI.

    This is how generational fraud works. Your generations view of what ‘appears reasonable’ seems to have changed.

  16. Barry Pearson

    John Taylor :

    I’m 65 and I spent nearly 10 years being very active in one area of policy. I’ve contributed at the green and white papers stages. I’ve given evidence to a Select Committee in Parliament. I’ve been a studio guest on the News24 channel by invitation by the BBC. I’ve been interviewed on the Radio Today programme. I’ve had lots of communications with ministers and senior civil servants. I know far more than most about the political process in the UK. (What is your actual practical experience?)

    Normal citizens simply do not have detailed influence over government policy. Think what influence citizens had over whether the UK would support the war in Iraq. Are you willing to be associated by future generations with that war, even though there nothing you could actually do one way or the other to change the policy?

    When I said “The decisions we made weren’t malicious – they appeared reasonable at the time”, I meant all the decisions about our own lives: our own educations, our own house-purchases, our own decisions about our pensions and our savings, etc. I’m pretty sure today’s younger people would have made similar decisions in the same circumstances.

    Some detailed points:

    – In my year, the average school leaving age was just over 15, and about 5% of us went to university. Now it is more like 19 years and 35%. Reasonable or not?

    – If the pension-index link had not been broken in the 1980s, I would now be about £30 a week better off! An index-link takes time to accumulate a big effect, so is of more use to people in future than now.

    – The 2005 Labour government which had free bus travel in their manifesto and then implemented it was voted for mainly by younger people rather than older people. Older people tended to vote for the Conservatives who didn’t have free bus travel in their manifesto. (Who did you vote for?)

    – Remember that there wasn’t a baby-boom that started about 1945 and ended about 1965. That is a myth promoted by people who haven’t properly studied the publications of the Office of National Statistics.

    You persist in pursuing “blame”, when blame is only valid when people individually do things they shouldn’t do or fail to do things they should do. You haven’t identified a single thing that I did or failed to do that helped cause the current situation.

    And the same applies to every non-politician in my generation. We weren’t plotting anything malicious. We were struggling to live our lives.

  17. John Taylor

    Barrie,
    Your portfolio of experience in intergenerational politics seems impressive – however you don’t seem to recognise the crucial factor in intergenerational fraud. TIMING.

    Intergeneration politics isn’t about whether policies are reasonable or not. This is a smoke screen, you are using, knowingly or not.

    If you and I were planning a society (from scratch, day one), it’s reasonable for us to suggest that pensioners receive a free bus pass. It’s equally reasonable to suggest that pensioners pay a reduced fair. Both are reasonable.

    Again (from day one) with social care costs, – it’s reasonable to suggest workers to pay for their own costs. It’s equally reasonable to set up a risk share ‘National Insurance Scheme’, where workers pay contributions through their working lives. Both are reasonable and adopted throughout the world, by reasonable governments and populations.

    What’s not reasonable is for one generation to reach retirement and demand that social care costs responsibilites now switch from the individual to a ‘National Insurance Scheme’. What this generation is doing, is demanding the cover, without paying the premiums. You’re asking for social care cost literally to leap frog your generation.

    ‘We didn’t pay for the social care, bus travel, winter fuel costs for previous pensioner generations, but we want workers to pay for ours’

    As for not being malicious Barry, come on- A WW2 25 year old squaddie , aged 25 in 1940, reached retirement age in 1980. At this time the pension-index link was broken to help enable low taxation for the working age population (YOU). This was MALICIOUS and fatal. Thousands of pensioners died from preventable poverty related deaths in the 80s, 90s, 00s

  18. Barry Pearson

    John Taylor:

    You are still missing the point. As I said above at various places:

    “The post-war generation didn’t unduly influence governments to do anything! See my recent article “The myth of excessive political influence by the post-war generation”. (My generation, like all generations, is only a minority of the electorate). The article also points out that there appear to be cases where being in a large cohort is a disadvantage. Some improvements can’t be afforded because too many people would have to be helped.

    “I’ll bet that had you been living at that time, you would have made the same sorts of decisions.”

    “Normal citizens simply do not have detailed influence over government policy. Think what influence citizens had over whether the UK would support the war in Iraq. Are you willing to be associated by future generations with that war, even though there nothing you could actually do one way or the other to change the policy?”

    “You persist in pursuing “blame”, when blame is only valid when people individually do things they shouldn’t do or fail to do things they should do. You haven’t identified a single thing that I did or failed to do that helped cause the current situation.”

    “And the same applies to every non-politician in my generation. We weren’t plotting anything malicious. We were struggling to live our lives.”

    There was no conspiracy of a particular generation to cause carefully-timed policy changes over a period of decades! That would be flat-out impossible!

  19. john taylor

    Barry,
    I’m not missing ‘the point’. You don’t seem have grasped the basics of debate.In your posts you’re expressing your OPINIONS in the form of bold sweeping statements, which you believe to be unchallengeable- like this one.

    ‘The post-war generation didn’t unduly influence governments to do anything!’

    You can put a thousand exclamation marks at the end of your sentences – it still doesn’t convert your opinions to facts. I disagree with your above statement of opinion and have provided a selection of facts which I believe support this. You haven’t addressed these, you’ve simply repeated your bold sweeping statements. Any intelligent and enquiring audience won’t blindly except your opinions as facts, no matter how loud you shout!

    I’m not sure you grasped the concept of balance/objectivity in your work. Look at the title of your recent article

    ‘The myth of excessive political influence by the post-war generation”.

    This title has inherent bias. If you want to suggest to the reader that your article will at least try to be balanced, choose a title like this ‘Has the post-war generation had excessive political influence?’

    IG fraud doesn’t require long term plans. It simply involves the alteration of the balance of responsibility for key services/costs between the state: individual at times that favour one generation. This balance has constantly changed, driven by political fashion and economic conditions. However your generation stand accused of skewing this balance in your favour, at the expense of other generations. The truth will out.

  20. Barry Pearson

    John Taylor:

    I have supported my statements with masses of evidence! But you have to go and read my articles (Google will find them).

    They are FAR too large to copy here. For example, ‘The myth of excessive political influence by the post-war generation” is over 3100 words plus 3 diagrams plus about 20 links to other pages both by me and other people (including official sources).

    My titles are supported by overwhelming evidence within the articles and in the cited articles and studies. I make particular use of the Office of National Statistics, which shows clearly that there was NOT a baby boom that started about 1945 and ended about 1965. (1965 was the peak of a baby boom). Their main baby boom was about 1955 to about 1974, and most of that couldn’t vote for Thatcher in 1979.

    For interest, one of my latest articles is “Baby booms in the electorates of the last 6 Prime Ministers”, showing in graphical and numerical form that each generation is always a minority of the electorate. It points out that when Margaret Thatcher was first elected, only people born in 1961 or earlier could vote, making the 1945-1961 cohort 24% of the population and 33% of the electorate. When Cameron was elected, the respective figures for the 1945-1965 cohort were 26% and 33%.

    It would madness to suggest that any group broke the index-linking in 1980 and restored it in 2010. Before breaking it in 1980 there would have to be confidence that it could be restored in 2010. With only 33% of the electorate in both cases, obviously the 1945-1965 couldn’t do that or even form part of a conspiracy to do so.

    I suggest you read my full articles and comment on them, not on the VERY brief summaries I can provide here.

  21. Barry Pearson

    John Taylor:

    You say “I disagree with your above statement of opinion and have provided a selection of facts which I believe support this.”

    I don’t detect any such “facts” in what you have said here. All I see above are assertions without supporting evidence. Where are your citations of sources of material to support your case?

    I have published 20 substantial articles over the last year and a half on “intergenerational issues” (on my blog which you easily reach) with research, analysis, citations, etc. I have also reviewed a couple of books I’ve read on the subject at Amazon.

    Have you written any analysis anywhere to support your statements? Where?

  22. John Taylor

    Barry,

    I understand that you put a great value on your opinions & work, but it’s for others to decide whether or not your work is substantial.

    It’s a fact that the pension index link was broken in 1980, it’s a fact it was restored with a triple lock in 2010. Its a fact that pensioners contributed to public transport pre 2006 and now don’t. It’s a fact that your university costs and living costs were paid by the taxpayer. It’s a fact that students now leave University with huge debts. It’s a fact that the over 50s have never owned a greater proportion of the nation’s wealth. It’s a fact that the over 50s are owed Billions in overgenerous unfunded final salary schemes (OK overgenerous could be argued). It’s a fact that the baby boomer lobby want social care costs to leapfrog their generation. It’s a fact that new pensioner benefits have been created (TV license, winter heating). It’s a fact that the baby boomer lobby are NOW lobbying for a local income tax. It’s a fact that during this recession working age benefits have been hit whilst pensioner age benefits have been protected.

    Bored with facts? Here’s my unresearched, prejudiced opinion of your articles – I’m guessing that your articles are a biased defensive response to the ever loudening accusations of intergenerational fraud. I’m speculating that your tactic is to try break down these accusations into their constituent parts, whilst brazenly ignoring the trend as a whole (this is the basis of intergeneration fraud). Almost like a thief accused of 30 separate robberies, trying to defend each crime, whilst ignoring the fact that they’ve been implicated in the 30.

    The commentary space here is for this article, but I will have a look at your articles.

  23. Barry Pearson

    John Taylor:

    Once again, you have failed to supply evidence to support your hypothesis. Your list of largely unrelated facts doesn’t do the job. It is easy to select unrelated facts from the variety available to give an impression. But I’ll give verifiable facts:

    1. There was no UK baby boom that started about 1945 and ended about 1965. It is trivial to confirm that. (There was such a baby boom in the USA, and I suspect that people in the UK assume therefore that there was one here too). In the UK there have been a series of baby booms: about 1946-1948; about 1955-1974; about 1978-1992; and one in progress now.

    2. When Thatcher was elected in 1979 only people born 1961 and earlier could vote. The 1945-1961 electorate in 1979 was only 32.1% of that electorate. People born before the end of WW2 were more than two-thirds of the electorate. It is ridiculous to point a finger at a post-war generation for decisions she made early on!

    3. Free transport was in Blair’s manifesto in 2005. It was mostly younger people who voted for him. Older people mostly voted Conservative, and they didn’t offer free travel!

    4. At the 2005 election, the post-1965 electorate was larger than the 1945-1965 electorate, and this difference was much larger in 2010. Why not suggest that in fact it was the post-1965 electorate (bigger than the 1945-1965 cohort) that influenced Cameron?

    5. The 1945-1965 cohort has never been more than 40% of the electorate (Thatcher 1983), and typically have been much less. It has never been some massive demographic bulge able to swing government policies as in the USA. This is clearly seen from publications of the ONS.

    6. Similarly, people of 65 and over have always been less than 22% of the electorate. They have never had the political clout that some attribute to them. (This will change a little in 2015 and 2020, when it will be nearly 24% then nearly 26% respectively).

    7. The 10-year cohort with the largest gross housing wealth is the 1965-1974 cohort, and they haven’t even nearly peaked yet! (The 1955-1964 cohort is slightly smaller. The 1945-1954 cohort is slightly smaller still and has not only peaked but appears to be in decline).

    8. I has 3 jobs while I was at university to help pay for my living costs; my mother also took a job, and my parents delayed buying a house until their 40s to help pay for me. The idea that taxpayers paid my living costs is nonsense! (And only 5% of us got to university).

    I’ve tried to understand why people belief the myth of a 1845-1965 baby boom. See “Why are people born 1945-1965 called baby boomers?”. I think people get confused by the USA baby boom.

    (I’ve never heard of a lobby for a local income tax. Didn’t I get the memo from “Baby Boom Central”?)

  24. Barry Pearson

    John Taylor:

    All you have to do to look at all my articles is click on my name above.

    Then optionally click on the “Intergenerational” category or the “Intergenerational” tab to subset to the 22 such articles I’ve published over the last year and a half.

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