Alan Walker closed the twentieth Pensioners’ Parliament with a rousing speech which celebrated the achievements of the National Pensioners Convention, but also warned of the challenges ahead.
His challenges were especially chilling. Professor Alan Walker is a distinguished and sober academic, not given to wild assertions. He identified three arguments which the pensioners movement needs to take seriously.
- There is a relentless threat to public and welfare services, driven by the belief that public services are bloated and bureaucratic whereas the private sector is lean and efficient.
- Older people are expensive. Their ‘perks’ (bus passes, Winter Fuel Payments etc) cost the tax-payer about £5bn. But he argued that ‘perks’ for rich people -such as the higher rate income tax relief on pension contributions – cost much more, and in fact the benefits offered to pensioners are actually vital to the quality of life of most. We let the language of ‘perks’ gain purchase at our peril.
- Older people are lionising precious state resources and cheating younger people of their opportunities. They are exploiting their electoral weight to feather their own nests.
These are all, Alan argued, baseless propositions, but compelling propaganda has been rooted in baseless propositions in the past. The NPC, he reminded his audience, is nothing if not a campaigning organisation, and rebutting these modern myths must be a top priority.
In seven separate debates over the three days of the Parliament, the delegates had focussed on current hot topics – social care, fuel poverty and pensions had a lot of attention. Rural areas were recognised as presenting special problems for older people. But throughout all the debates, the themes picked out and
crystallised by Alan Walker had been expressed and articulated by delegates. At least two participants in the transport debate flounced out in rage when one of the platform speakers suggested that we need an evidence base on the social inclusion facilitated by free bus passes to legitimise their continuation. There was anger that wealthy pensioners ostentatiously giving away their Winter Fuel Payments diminished the real lifeline that this money represents to millions of poor pensioners.
There was also anger that Paul Burstow pulled out from his speaking slot on the grounds of Parliamentary business (in Westminster). The NPC always looks forward to giving Government ministers a hard time, and delegates vented their disappointment by purchasing a large cabbage and placing it prominently on the rostrum. And throughout the proceedings, there was real frustration that the Government was still unable to show the necessary energy and determination to bring forward reform proposals on social care, and fix a system which has long since been past its sell-by date.
Last week we asked delegates at the Pensioners’ Parliament what they thought on social care. Take a look at what they said.
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