Opinion  

Osborne ‘hard truth’ doublespeak belies pension profligacy

Ashley Wassall

As political doublespeak goes, today’s (6 January) call from chancellor George Osborne for Britons to face the ‘hard truth’ of our nation’s fiscal penury sets a pretty high bar for disingenuity.

Setting out his party’s vision for economic management should it win the next election in 2015, the chancellor told business leaders gathered at the headquarters of manufacturer Sertec in Colehill the Conservatives would “finish the job” of putting Britain’s finances back on track.

This means, despite signs the UK recovery is gathering pace, that the bitter bill of austerity will continue to be administered by Dr O and co through a prospective second parliamentary term. In all £25bn will be slashed under ‘current projections’ over two years to 2017/2018, with a further £12bn coming from the already battered welfare bill.

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It’s ostensibly a brave line to take to the polls for a chancellor that has already imposed some of the harshest and most controversial cuts in recent memory. It’s also an exercise in specious subterfuge.

Just yesterday Mr Osborne’s boss and our glorious leader David Cameron was on BBC1’s The Andrew Marr show promising to continue the bumper annual payout boosts for pensioners. The so-called ‘triple-lock’, a manifesto pledge at the last election that guarantees retirement income will increase by the higher of inflation, earnings rises or 2.5 per cent, will be pledged anew.

According to figures published by the Department for Works and Pensions, the move will cost around £45bn over the next 15 years.

So while the working age population struggles under an unprecedented post-war debt pile, with none of the previous support for studying, unaffordable housing, public sector pay freezes and declining benefits, our pampered pensioners are getting another handout.

And make no mistake, in spite of the pictures you may have seen in the tabloids of poor old grannies sitting swaddled next to a gas fire they cannot afford to turn on, relative to the young of today most of the current crop of baby-boomers are doing alright.

Their pension increases have outstripped those of earnings in recent years, they benefit from a plethora of non-means tested handouts such as winter fuel payments, and every statistic available shows they are the richest generation ever to have lived in the UK.

Moreover, Office for National Statistics data published last month reveal future generations of elderly can only expect things to get worse.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not necessarily against the welfare cuts Mr Osborne has introduced. While the ‘spare room subsidy’ appeared at the least mis-judged, most of the measures to limit the amount paid out appeared to me proportionate.

My issue is the government is profligate with pensions when it otherwise claims to stand on a platform of frugality. For all the cuts hitherto implemented have done to improve our pecuniary position the ‘hard truth’ is that more than half of the welfare budget is spent on pensions and this is rising all the time.