Tory Government & Media Gofers ...

Mick Hall looks at the Tory assault on pensioners. Mick Hall is a Marxist blogger @ Organized Rage.

  • The Tory government and their media gofers are engaged in a despicable nudge campaign to reduce pensioners benefits.
For all Cameron's talk of a triple lock, there is little doubt pensioner benefits are in the sights of the Tory government. Nor does one need a crystal ball to know the government's Behavioural Insights Team, often called the ‘Nudge Theory Unit’ which is based in the Cabinet Office are behind the campaign to cut the number of Benefits pensioners can receive.
This neoliberal creation is a concept in behavioural science, political theory, and economics, which argues that positive reinforcement and indirect suggestions can influence the decision making of groups and individuals.

This was best demonstrated when the Coalition government first came to power in 2010. In the weeks and months that followed they nudged the public into believing the last Labour government were responsible for the 2008 economic crash, and harsh austerity was unavoidable to balance the nation's books.

This was achieved by members of the Coalition constantly repeating, mantra like, the previous Labour government's spending on Welfare benefits caused the deficit and the 2008 crash. Alongside this hollow chant were countless articles in the mainstream media repeating this inaccurate tale.

The fact the LP failed to challenge this head on and agreed with the Tories some form of austerity was necessary, left Cameron and Osborne with an open goal to start their vicious attempt to smash the welfare state..

Today, much the same is occurring only this time it's designed to cut pensioners' benefits. Despite the British state pension being one of the least generous in Europe hardly a day goes by without a senior Neoliberal politician, whether Tory, Lib Dem, or Labour, and their friends in the mainstream media talking up the need to cut the benefits of pensioners.

Often nonsensically claiming the current level of pensions are unsustainable because millionaire pensioners like Rupert Murdoch and Mick Jagger are entitled to free TV licences, free bus passes and the winter fuel payment. *

On Wednesday of this week without publishing a jot of evidence to back it up, Parliament's Work and Pensions Select Committee issued a report which erroneously claimed “If spending on pensioner benefits continue to rise sharply it will become arguably, unsustainable.”

On the following day the media was full of a speech Ken Clarke made at a Resolution Foundation seminar in which he said:
The changing climate of public opinion may mean it will be possible for the state to cut back the generosity of pensioner benefits. Obviously there must be someone in government who thinks the triple lock is affordable for future generations, but the only part of my income that is going up is my state retirement pension really quite markedly in real terms.

Policy changes are required. Awareness of the treatment of pensioners is spreading a little among the public and we may be able to make some moves.

That last sentence is especially pertinent as it leaves little doubt the parliamentary committee's report, and countless articles on this subject which often claim the current state pension is unsustainable, are part of a government sponsored nudge strategy to acclimatise peoples minds to support cutting Pensioner benefits.

If anyone doubts this is not about cutting the pensions of ordinary people and just those of millionaires, Ken Clarke let the cat out of the bag in his aforementioned speech when he said:
The secret to taxation is that most people will tell politicians and pollsters they are in favour of more taxes being raised from people that are richer than they ever expect to be themselves. The basic problem is there are not enough of these rich people to raise serious sums of money.
If this is true about taxation, it's doubly true about pensions as most millionaires have not even reached retirement age. The amount Osborne would save by stopping the pensioner benefits of millionaires would be very small beer. He could only generate a much more substantial sum by cutting the benefits of all pensioners hence this nudge campaign.

If it's truly thought due to their wealth millionaire pensioners are gaining an unfair advantage, the way to deal with it is to raise the 45% of tax higher earners pay. Making pensioners benefits non universal would almost certainly end up having a detrimental impact on all pensioners. As it would allow the government to salami slice these benefits in the same way as they are doing with tax credits. Were this to happen it would leave millions of pensioners with the State pension only which is paid at a subsistence level and thus return them to the type of poverty living we had thought the UK had seen the last of.

 * One thing which is hardly, if ever included when the issue of pensioners benefits comes up in the media, is the sizable number of the UK's pensioners who only receive the basic state pension.  Even those pensioners who also have an occupational pension on average only receive a small additional pension. Thus media chatter about the number of retired baby boomers living high on the hog are greatly exaggerated.

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Anthony McIntyre

Former IRA prisoner, spent 18 years in Long Kesh. Free Speech advocate, writer, historian, humanist, and researcher.

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