Dumb Lords

The Intergenerational Fairness and Provision Committee is a committee comprised of unelected peers, with an average age of 67 years i.e. above official retirement age. Its function is to propose policy to the government where benefits and services are not fairly balanced between the generations.

Given the trend in such bodies is that the members (and particularly the Chair) reflect the function (As in a woman for anything relating to thee fair s*x, disabled person for the ‘otherwise abled’, and of course a person of colour for anything to do with racial matters), this group doesn’t really tick the boxes. Firstly, there is no representative of the younger generation to give that perspective. Secondly, and more importantly, they are hardly representative of the average pensioner; peers are probably not counting out coins before their weekly shop – they are maybe more focused on which cognac to get; the Tesseron Grande Champagne or the Daniel Bouju Reserve.

The underlying rationale is that pensioners have never had it so good, especially when compared with younger people and employees generally. Their recommendations to ‘re-balance’ include removing the pension ‘triple lock’ and free TV licences, and restricting free bus passes and Winter Fuel Payments. There was no mention of the travel allowances and subsidised restaurant facilities they all enjoy as pensioners in the House of Lords. Not much re-balancing there, then.

Labour governments bear a large share of responsibility for this. Anything which was ‘means tested’ has been anathema to the party, and hence when legislating for a range of benefits, they were made unconditional, regardless of circumstances. This was surely a mistake, even acknowledging the political and administrative dimension of this decision.

However, the undeniably bizarre aspect of the ideas proposed is the treatment of pensioners as a homogeneous set of people. This is clearly nonsense and repeats the error of the universal grant in the first place. Some pensioners have (unfunded) inflation proofed, public sector pension of up to two thirds of final salary; others have to visit food banks. Their recommendations to remove the stated benefits regardless of circumstances is surely as dumb as the decision to award them on that basis in the first place.

Founding such decisions on some notion of an ‘average’ pensioner on the basis of ‘fairness’ is surely irrational. The State Pension as of the time of writing is £6720 per annum, far below what is credibly necessary to live in an acceptable standard. Although they cite the ‘triple lock’, the concept of a well off pensioner has nothing to do with the state, and is entirely down to their personal financial history if they have a greater income than this. The inflation linked increment has more or less no impact on Grumpy’s income as a pensioner.

Further, at least the women, disabled persons and people of colour on typical committees normally have a direct connection with the issues they are seeking to address. Arguably, the members of this committee have little connection with the life style of the average pensioner (and certainly not with poor pensioners) and (based on the rationale of the typical committee composition policies) are ill equipped to pronounce on fairness from their red benches in a gilded edifice.

Footnote : As they probably all have residences in London and all (bar one) are eligible for free Oyster travel, any public transport (should they stoop to such) is paid for by the young rate payers of the city – something not mentioned in their deliberations.