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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 81

IX — Old-Age Pensions—Cutting-Down Schemes

page 50

IX

Old-Age Pensions—Cutting-Down Schemes

Dear Mr.——,—The schemes for old-age pensions assume many forms, but I will deal with what is apparently going to be the basis of the Government's plan, or at any rate the ultimate outcome of that plan, which is a non-contributory pension of 5s. a week for all men and women after sixtyfive. The first point to be noted is the cost. Universal old-age pensions of 5s. weekly at sixtyfive mean an expenditure of thirty millions a year by the State. It is hardly to be wondered at that all except avowed Socialists are appalled by such a figure. In order to avoid a scheme so ruinous as this, great efforts have been made to suggest plans by which the number of pensioners may, to begin with at least, be cut down, while at the same time the universal and non-contributory principles may be maintained in appearance. Which of these cutting-down plans will be adopted by the Government is at present unknown, but page 51 I should like to draw your attention to one or two of them to show the tremendous difficulties in which men find themselves when they try to adopt Socialism "on the cheap." One proposal is that no one who now receives a pension of more than 10s. a week from the State, or has indeed an income of more than 10s. from any source, should be eligible for the aew old-age pensions. That is, Civil servants, whether employed by the central or local Government, policemen, soldiers, and sailors in receipt of pensions are to be struck off the list. A moment's reflection must show the extreme injustice of any such scheme. The existing State pensioner will be able to say, and with perfect truth: "It is most unjust to deprive me of the 5s. a week which you are giving to persons who have spent their lives in private employment. My pension is in reality not a pension at all, but merely deferred pay. I made a bargain with the State to do work for it, and under that bargain a bit of my wages was to be kept back every week and given to me in the latter part of my life, and after my active work was done. The fact that my pension is really only part of my wages is acknowledged by the Government themselves, for in most cases it is actually called deferred pay, and in all cases it is deferred pay and nothing else. Look at the cases of my brother Jack and me. He went into private employment and earned far better wages than I did, but had page 52 no promise of a pension. I took lower wages because I was to receive a pension after thirty years' service. Out of his higher wages Jack saved money and invested it in buying two small houses, and he is now getting £26 a year with the money he saved. Yet, now we are both sixtyfive, the State is going to give him 5s. a week, and going to give me nothing because I was fool enough to leave my savings in the hands of the State, and because my pension is 12s. a week. It is a cruel injustice to me."

Another method of cutting down the pensionlist is the suggestion that nobody is to have the money unless he or she applies for it every Monday morning in person at the local pension office. It is supposed that these disagreeable conditions will prevent persons in the middle and upper classes from claiming their money. They will not like, it is said, to stand in a line every Monday among their poorer neighbours waiting for their turn at the pension window. Now I venture to say that this plan for cutting down the pension-list will end in nothing. It might last for five or six years, but very soon people would begin to say that it was a monstrous shame to expose poor men to the discomfort of asking for their pensions in person, that many of them, old and feeble, had to stand out in the rain, and that therefore they ought to be allowed to send a substitute to fetch the money, or else the Government should send page 53 it to them by post. But the moment pensions collected by substitutes or sent out by the post are legalised practically everybody would claim his pension. Those who did not want the pensions for themselves would be certain to be besieged by charities and other institutions who would say: "If you will kindly assign to us your old-age pension, we will send a substitute to collect it for you, or receive it for you through the post." As no question of pride would come in here, we may be sure that such appeals would not be made to deaf ears.

Well-to-do men would no doubt explain that they did not take the old-age pension for themselves, but gave it to the parish church or the village hospital, or whatever their pet charity might be. I, for example, should certainly assign my pension to the parish rifle club, if parish rifle clubs are still allowed to exist when I am sixtyfive. In any case, the pensions would all be drawn.

I must defer to next week an examination of yet another scheme for cutting down the list.—Yours very sincerely,

J. St. L. S.