Thursday 25 October 2012

Lord Bichard's plans to force pensioners to work

Lord Bichard is not a Tory, in fact he is a crossbencher and close friend of the Neo-Labour stalwart David Blunkett, but he certainly has been getting into the spirit of Tory malice.

Michael Bichard (to give him his proper name), who is a former head of the Benefits Agency (1990-95) and later the head of the Employment Agency (1995-2001), sparked outrage from across the mediascape with his comments that the retired should be forced to work for their state pensions and stop being a "burden on the state". Here's what he said:

"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?"
"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."
As anyone under the age of 60 should be aware, the state pension age is already being raised, meaning that millions of people will have to work much longer before receiving their pensions, now Lord Bichard is proposing that once they retire, the state forces them to work for their meagre state pension allowances.

British pensioners are already amongst the poorest in Europe, with the state paying just 17% of average earnings, whilst the value of state pensions across the rest of Western Europe are above 40%, yet Lord Bichard would have them work for this pittance that they receive from the state. 

Michael Bichard's proposals are unfair from so many perspectives, here are just a few:
The main objection is that pensioners have already paid for their pension entitlements via National Insurance. Any attempt to dock or remove people's pensions for an unwillingness or inability to continue working into their 70s would be an act of theft.
Another obvious objection would be that pensioners would have to be assessed to determine their ability to work, work that would almost certainly be undertaken by parasitic outsourcing corporations. This would create the potential for another Atos style work capacity assessment farce, where the company rakes in £billions for declaring people fit to work, only for the decisions to be overturned en masse in the courts at a massive cost to the taxpayer and causing enormous stress to to the many aged and extremely infirm pensioners that have been declared fit for work and face having their pensions slashed or cut off entirely.
Another objection is that pensioners already do a huge amount of work, they are the single largest demographic in the charitable sector labour force and many millions of pensioners work as carers and child minders. If Bichard's proposals are enacted, one can be sure that this kind of work will not be recognised, just as voluntary work, education and training are not recognised when it comes to the unemployed being forced into unpaid menial labour. Pensioners will be told that caring for their terminally ill spouse, looking after their grandchildren or working at their local charity shop doesn't count as an economic contribution and that they must therefore go and stack shelves for no wages at Poundland or Tesco instead.
Another objection would be that this kind of scheme would disproportionately effect the poor, the people that are most reliant upon the state pension. Anyone with a half decent private pension scheme or assets such as property or shares that could be sold off, could afford to have their state pension docked, whilst the poorest pensioners would have no choice but to work in order to keep their meagre state pensions that represents the bulk of their incomes.
Another objection is that forcing the elderly into mandatory unpaid labour schemes for their pensions would reduce the amount of real jobs in the economy, it makes much more economic sense for work to go to paid employees, who then pay tax on their earnings and stimulate the economy by spending their wages, if the work is given to an elderly pension slave instead, the only beneficiaries would be the corporate interests that get the free labour and the corporate outsourcing company that arranged the placement, meanwhile a working age person would be denied the work, and find themselves unemployed (then they would be forced into a Workfare unpaid labour scheme, denying that work to yet another young and able bodied person, who would find themselves unemployed and forced to work for no wages... ad infinitum).
Yet another objection is the plight of manual labourers, who already get a bum deal when it comes to pensions. People that do physical labour for a living are significantly more likely to die before they even reach pension age. Under the terms of the 2011 pension reform anyone under the age of 44 will now be expected to work until they are 66 and anyone under the age of 34 will be expected to work until they are 68. This means that greater numbers of people in the construction, heavy industry and farming sectors will end up dying before they even get to claim back their National Insurance contributions, whilst Bichard expects those that do survive to pension age to carry on working, despite the fact that they are significantly more likely to be suffering arthritis, rheumatism, nerve damage, respiratory disease or other industrially related diseases.
There is one significant ray of hope though, the elderly are by far the most likely to vote, and even the Tory party have enough sense to know that incurring the wrath of British pensioners by following Michael Bichard's recommendations and forcing pensioners to work at government mandated, outsourcing company administered, mandatory labour schemes would be an act of political suicide. Especially since the elderly are the third most likely demographic to vote Tory (behind only the rich and farmers).  

Perhaps the most revolting fact about Michael Bichard's mandatory labour for pensioners proposal is the fact that Bichard himself retired from the civil service at the age of 54 on an index linked pension estimated to be worth £120,000 a year. Here's a man that collects a taxpayer funded pension of over £2,300 a week, demanding that people on state pensions of little more that £100 a week be compelled to work in order to collect theirs. 

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