How to fund a genuine pension guarantee

The government's £75 "pension guarantee", which Frank Field rightly criticises as a disincentive to savings, is neither a pension nor a guarantee ("A hand-up or a put-down for the poor?", 27 November). It is the pensioner rate of income support, not the pension itself, that is to be increased in April by £3 a week for a single pensioner. Those above income support level will get nothing.

At least half a million pensioners below income support level will also get nothing. At present, about a million - roughly one in three of those entitled - do not claim income support. When the "guarantee" was announced in July, Harriet Harman made much of her plans to trace them. But the pensions minister, John Denham, has admitted that in costing the guarantee, most of the missing millions are assumed to be still missing as far ahead as 2002.

If the government really wants to provide a £75 guarantee, it can do so without the take-up problems and administrative waste of means-testing by raising the basic pension from £64.70 to at least £75. Considering that the pension would be over £90 if the earnings link had not been broken in 1980, £75 is not over-generous.

Nor is it unaffordable. Instead of national insurance contributions being reduced by £1.4 billion a year, as is the government's intention, a modest increase would be needed; but most working people would consider this a price worth paying for the assurance that, when they reach retirement, the state pension will be worth having.

Tony Lynes
Vice-chairman, Southwark Pensioners Action Group
London SE5

This article first appeared in the 04 December 1998 issue of the New Statesman, Just get out and have fun!

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No, David Cameron’s speech was not “left wing”

Come on, guys.

There is a strange journalistic phenomenon that occurs when a party leader makes a speech. It is a blend of groupthink, relief, utter certainty, and online backslapping. It happened particularly quickly after David Cameron’s speech to Tory party conference today. A few pundits decided that – because he mentioned, like, diversity and social mobility – this was a centre-left speech. A leftwing speech, even. Or at least a clear grab for the liberal centre ground. And so that’s what everyone now believes. The analysis is decided. The commentary is written. Thank God for that.

Really? It’s quite easy, even as one of those nasty, wicked Tories, to mention that you actually don’t much like racism, and point out that you’d quite like poor children to get jobs, without moving onto Labour's "territory". Which normal person is in favour of discriminating against someone on the basis of race, or blocking opportunity on the basis of class? Of course he’s against that. He’s a politician operating in a liberal democracy. And this isn’t Ukip conference.

Looking at the whole package, it was actually quite a rightwing speech. It was a paean to defence – championing drones, protecting Britain from the evils of the world, and getting all excited about “launching the biggest aircraft carriers in our history”.

It was a festival of flagwaving guff about the British “character”, a celebration of shoehorning our history chronologically onto the curriculum, looking towards a “Greater Britain”, asking for more “national pride”. There was even a Bake Off pun.

He also deployed the illiberal device of inculcating a divide-and-rule fear of the “shadow of extremism – hanging over every single one of us”, informing us that children in UK madrassas are having their “heads filled with poison and their hearts filled with hate”, and saying Britain shouldn’t be “overwhelmed” with refugees, before quickly changing the subject to ousting Assad. How unashamedly centrist, of you, Mr Prime Minister.

Benefit cuts and a reduction of tax credits will mean the Prime Minister’s enthusiasm for “equality of opportunity, as opposed to equality of outcome” will be just that – with the outcome pretty bleak for those who end up losing any opportunity that comes with state support. And his excitement about diversity in his cabinet rings a little hollow the day following a tubthumping anti-immigration speech from his Home Secretary.

If this year's Tory conference wins the party votes, it’ll be because of its conservative commitment – not lefty love bombing.

Anoosh Chakelian is deputy web editor at the New Statesman.