Monday 19 August 2019

Retirement at 75: It's about Class, Stupid.

Bryan Mosley was a regular face on the telly growing up. Better known to millions as Alf Roberts, the kindly shopkeep from Coronation Street I remember hearing the news that he died of a heart attack just over a month into retirement. A tragedy for his family to be sure especially as he was only 67, but also a reminder to the rest of us that retirement, if we get there, could be briefer than we expect. This brings us to the latest wheeze from Iain Duncan Smith's favourite think tank, the grossly misnamed Centre for Social Justice, about their proposal to raise the retirement age to 75. No need to fret about what to do in retirement or concern yourself with how long its going to last if a sizeable chunk of the population stand little chance of seeing it.

What cod argument do the CSJ offer by way of justifying raising the pension age by eight more years? Crucial to their position is the Old Age Dependency Ratio, the number of over 65s there are per 100 of the working age population, which is defined as between 15 and 64. 2018 is the most recent data point, and has the UK reporting 28.6 over 65s per 100 workers. This is lower than France (31.6), Germany (32.8), Italy (35.2), and Spain (29.2), and is among the lowest in EU terms - it is certainly the lowest of the major powers. As the OADR is increasing over time, the argument goes that as our elderly population are increasing at a faster rate than the working population, this implies a greater chunk of the budget is going to have to be given over to social security for the old at the expense of other things, such as investment in infrastructure, maintaining low taxes, and welfare provision for, say, child benefit or the dole. As a Tory think tank for whom snatching entitlements is catnip, reducing the social security bill is the overriding objection. Therefore increasing the state pension age is a way of keeping the OADR in sustainable limits. But, but, to pay lip service to the social justice in their name IDS would only countenance raising the age if there is the requisite support. Ah yes. Just as disabled people were fraudulently chucked off Employment Support Allowance and social housing tenants were expected to find bedroom tax and council tax monies because "support" was available.

It goes without saying this is the most stupid idea to have come from the Tories since the Dementia Tax debacle. Of course, we must reiterate this isn't policy, it's "thinking aloud". And like most Tory policies ostensibly aimed at helping people, the evidential base for it is poor and the inevitable consequences swept under the rug. For instance, look at the CSJ's wailing about OADR. All it tells you is the ratio of old people to young people, nothing else. It doesn't measure the number of over 65s who, in the parlance, remain "economically active" (a particularly stupid term anyway because the every act of spending cash is economic activity). It doesn't say what proportion of the social security budget goes to meeting the needs of elderly people. It doesn't reveal anything about the extent of public spending, the level of taxation, nor the productivity of the economy underpinning the welfare system. For instance, staying within the terms of mainstream economics why are the recommendation proffered by the CSJ treated as the most obvious one? Instead of forcing people to work for longer, surely it would be more useful to invest and raise productivity, returning greater tax revenues to the exchequer, and consequently having more cash to keep the retirement age as is and perhaps even, gasp, lowering it?

We know why this doesn't occur. It's because the Tories are committed to the cult of work. While it is true many people find a sense of purpose inside work, a great many more find meaning in their activities outside of it. That is outside the immediate power relationship between worker and boss, and so most people have an instrumentalised relation to work: it's something you have to do so you can do the things you want to do. Anything that threatens to loosen the command work has over the majority of our lives is something the Tories instinctively feel threatened by. Just look at their responses to the idea of the basic income, for instance. And anything subordinating more and more of life to the workplace is something that strengthens their position and feels entirely right to them. In other words, and this point needs emphasising time and again, Tory politics is driven less by the (wrong) perception of the technocratic requirements of successfully managing British capitalism. Front and centre, first and always, is the strengthening and perpetuation of bourgeois class relations.

Yet surely, all that said, going into an election with such a policy floating about the Tory ether is electoral bromide, right? Well, yes. You can pretty much write off winning over the bulk of under-60s. And among the current Tory base, which is disproportionately elderly (as well as disproportionately declining) - perhaps not so much. As much of them are retired already or aren't projected to be affected by the phasing in of the proposed change, for them it's another opportunity to inflict the school of hard knocks on the coddled and spoiled generations coming after them. Just as the consequences of Brexit is set on separating the wheat from the chaff, seeing and knowing younger people have to work for longer generates a sense of satisfaction they they're getting a taste of the bitter medicine the post-war generation (think they) knew. This is self-validation through the suffering of others, of making oneself feel good about the world because you've played a part in administering a shock to a proxy for whatever group you feel bitterness toward (uppity women, minority ethnicities, younger people with their phones and youth). Just as the Tories successfully invested in generational wars for electoral profit in the past, the promise of a miserable old age for other people would appeal to the spiteful plenty in their voter coalition.

Covering all the grounds for opposing raising the retirement age to 75 would result in a much longer post, but what it does demonstrate is how out of ideas the Tories are. For all of Johnson's contrived optimism, the Tories turn to the crudest and short-sighted means of reinforcing their class rule. It again underlines the fact that they are beatable, and are seemingly bent on helping us with this task.


Lidl_Janus said...

"the grossly misnamed Centre for Social Justice"

Really they're just following the rules for think tank names, namely that they should be as unobjectionably nonspecific as possible. The Adam Smith Institute decided to get specific and then utterly embarrassed themselves by pitching the poll tax. No-one's making that mistake again.

Anonymous said...

Lets get that message out.

The poster with no name said...

"The Adam Smith Institute decided to get specific and then utterly embarrassed themselves by pitching the poll tax. "

I think the point is that the Centre for Social injustice would be more appropriate.

You just know that the bastards will get away with it though, I have often thought that much of the last 10 years can be explained by the Tories seeing what they can get away with, and it turns out pretty much anything.

I guess that happens when you have the corporate unfree press on your side.

asquith said...

Those who decided Brexit was some kind of great popular working-class uprising of the 'left behind' against the 'elite' are now acting surprised when the Britannia Unchained mob get into office!

This proposal is absurd and I hope never sees the light of day. My fear is they'll come up with the most outrageous ideas, get people scared, then when they do something that's merely very bad, instead of abysmal, act as if this were some big concession they'd made. I sincerely hope the retirement age never rises to 75 as I plan on clocking off from my futile job the day I reach state pension age, and not before. But even if it doesn't happen there is a lot of bad stuff that can be done while seeming 'moderate'.

They all laughed when David Laws said Owen Paterson suggested that OAPs be put to work for sub-minimum wage work doing the jobs currently done by migrant workers. But now the Britannia Unchained crowd are in danger of doing that.

asquith said...

Duncan Cough coats his 'proposal' with feigned concern that old people shouldn't be prevented from working. And I agree there shouldn't be age discrimination and that older people who wish to carry on earning a full-time wage should be able to do so.

But, while discrimination may prevent this, the state pension age being at 68 certainly doesn't. Those who want to work can do so, and barriers should be swept away. But that isn't what Duncan Cough proposes to do and he is as usual trying and failing to look like a human being.