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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 81

X — Old-Age Pensions Again

page 54


Old-Age Pensions Again

Dear Mr.——,—Another scheme for cutting down old-age pensions was suggested by the Nation last summer. It is that no man or woman should be allowed to claim his or her old-age pension if he or she is earning 5s. a week or over. If they are earning less they are only to be allowed such a pension as would make up their earnings to 5s. a week. The object of this proposal is to prevent what otherwise would certainly happen—the lowering of wages through old-age pensions. If an old couple, each sixty-five, were together getting 10s. a week through pensions and were still active, it is obvious that they could and would be willing to take lower wages than they do now. For example, the man might be willing to work at 10s. a week, and, though he might be somewhat feeble, it is quite conceivable that an employer might find it worth his while to have two men over sixty-five working in his garden for page 55 10s. a week each, rather than one able-bodied man at £1 a week.

According to the Nation's plan, then, idleness would be one of the essential conditions under which men and women would get their old-age pensions. The Nation significantly adds that a somewhat elaborate system of inspection would be necessary to enforce this rule. I certainly think it would. A whole army of inspectors, male and female, would always be looking over hedges or through doors to find out whether old Mr. Brown or old Mrs. Smith were not surreptitiously earning a little money, and if he or she were, would be reporting them to the pension authority and getting them struck off the list. If the old people persisted in claiming their pensions under false declarations, they would, of course, have to be fined or imprisoned for perjury. Though I fully realise the logical necessity for such a proposal, it is to my mind most harsh and odious. We all know how intolerable idleness is to the majority of men and women who have earned their bread by hard work. Unless they are born idlers, they cannot be happy unless they are doing something in their old age. Under the Nation scheme, however, they would either be bribed into an unnatural idleness or else tempted into deceiving the State by false declarations. Depend upon it, a scheme so contrary to human feeling would never stand. In a very short time the premium on page 56 idleness, and the hosts of spies and inspectors trying to find out if old-age pensioners were earning money, would be swept away in a storm of popular indignation.

Before I leave the subject I must say a word as to an assertion often made—namely, that old-age pensions are a natural and proper charge upon the community, because their recipients have had no chance of making provision for themselves. To this declaration I give the most absolute denial. It is perfectly possible for an ordinary working man to make provision for his old age, and to make it without any intolerable sacrifice. It has been calculated that any working man who so desires may obtain an old-age benefit of 5s. a week at sixty-five in a Provident Society if from the age of twenty-one to sixty-five he makes a payment of 2½d. a week. That is, if on one day in the week he will give up, say, a pint of beer he may make provision for his old age. I note also that it was stated last summer by the permanent secretary at a meeting of the Ancient Order of Foresters that the extra contribution in the Foresters required to give 5s. a week at seventy would be only ¾d. a week beginning at eighteen years, 1d. at twentyfour, and 1¼d. at twenty-eight. That, I think, is a sufficient answer to the objection I have noted. I may add, however, that actual instances can be cited where even the most poorly paid men in the country—that is, agricultural labourers—have page 57 provided themselves, notably in the Dunmow Friendly Society, with old-age pensions purely through their own efforts and without any Government help.

Do not think, because I write strongly against State-provided, non-contributory old-age pensions, that I do not realise the benefits obtained through old-age pensions. I should like to see all men and women past sixty-five in possession of a pension. But I hold that they should provide it for themselves, and that we must not place this staggering burden on the State. I should not, again, object to a well-devised scheme of compulsory insurance against old age. What I protest against is imposing on the taxpayer a burden which will ultimately reach £30,000,000 a year. Remember, the taxpayer on whom the chief burden of taxation falls is always the working man.—Yours very sincerely,

J. St. L. S.