Today is the annual UN Day for Older Persons, a day of celebration and recognition for a generation who have given a lifetime of work to build our nations and fought for social and economic justice, peace and human rights.
Here, in a shameful act of callous betrayal of this generation, Boris Johnson’s government is holding firm on its decision to remove funding for a free TV licence for those aged over 75.
Ending the state provision of a free licence for all over-75s, instead forcing its provision onto an already stretched BBC, has led to means testing and the ending of its status as a universal benefit, undermining the social contract reached with our pensioners.
A disgraceful decision at any time, in the middle of a pandemic this is particularly cruel.
Loneliness and exclusion are growing concerns in the elderly generation, exacerbated by months of lockdown and shielding from Covid-19.
Millions have been left isolated and frightened, under virtual house arrest, unable to see friends or loved ones for months and often without access to the outside world.
To take away that vital lifeline — to news, public-health announcements and entertainment — is an unforgivable conscious and brutal further punishment.
With a second wave of local lockdowns upon us and temperatures falling, older people living on or just above the poverty line face an unthinkable choice between paying for food and heating, buying a TV licence or signing on for means-tested benefits in an attempt to get it for free.
For many, unused to claiming benefits and often declining to do so even when entitled, forcing them to claim complicated pension credits over the phone, online or with the assistance of local services cut to the bone by years of Tory austerity, is a disgrace.
As part of our campaign to reclaim the free licence, today Unite’s retired members fight back.
Teaming up with our Community members we are taking online and socially distanced action to force a change of policy.
Last year, a House of Lords committee tasked with making recommendations to tackle “intergenerational unfairness” — or robbing an older Peter to pay a younger Paul — said that older people “need to be equipped and supported to respond to a changing labour market.”
Rich words from their unelected, unaccountable lordships with their generous occupational pensions, investment income and £305-a-day attendance allowance.
Rarely having done the sort of work that would lead directly to pensioner poverty, failing health or a need for benefits or a bus pass, they went on to recommend that pensioners receive continuous training and retraining in order to continue working to make ends meet.
Further, advocating the removal of the triple lock for state pensions and restricting free bus passes alongside winter-fuel payments to those still with us five years after reaching state pension age.
Working-class pensioners, many of whom are already living in desperate poverty and in receipt of the lowest state pension of our European partners, instead of being allowed to enjoy their retirement years — which with current life expectancy trends will be considerably less than those in power — can no longer even rely on a state pension linked to a “triple lock,” which sees it increasing each year in line with the higher of wage growth, inflation or 2.5 per cent.
More than at any other period in our history, our society is being falsely divided and categorised in terms of the generation into which we are born.
It’s a divisive and simplistic approach that assumes those born into a generation have the same life experience and outcomes as each other.
In reality, health, property, wealth and income – all class issues alongside life expectancy –are grossly unequal.
In these unprecedented times, class inequality is perhaps a starker reality than ever.
Our past victories that ensured the collective provision of services we can all draw on at times of need are an expression of social solidarity, a redistribution of our common wealth and a pooling of risk as a society.
It’s undeniable that today’s younger workers are bearing the brunt of the fallout from austerity and deliberate government policies, resulting in growing inequality, spiralling housing costs, precarious work, falling wages and the very real prospect of unemployment levels not seen since the 1930s.
But rather than fixating on rolling back our gains and long-fought-for entitlements of our pensioners, the focus should be on intergenerational solidarity, class unity and the need to resist any attempt to divide us by those with both privilege and power.
JOIN US IN THE FIGHTBACK
For more info stay tuned to unitelive.org and see our campaign page
If you’d like to join a local Unite Retired Members’ group contact your regional office.
This comment was first featured in the Morning Star
By Steve Turner, Unite assistant general secretary @SteveT_Unite