A cross-party committee has announced plans to cut state pensions, claiming that the British economy has become “heavily skewed” in favour of the baby-boomer generation.
Part of this program of cuts would see the “triple lock” on state pensions, which guarantees rises of at least 2.5% a year, scrapped by the end of the decade. But the committee, chaired by veteran right-wing Labour MP Frank Field, has also made it clear that benefits given to all pensioners, such as winter fuel payments, should not be “off limits” to government cuts.
In 2014-15, an estimated 43,900 excess winter deaths occurred – mostly amongst those of pensionable age. Cuts to winter fuel payments would see this number soar.
For Blairites like Field, who buy wholeheartedly into the malicious logic of austerity, this is a necessary sacrifice:
“The welfare state is underpinned by an implicit intergenerational contract. Each generation is supported in retirement by their in-work successors. But a combination of factors has sent the balance out of kilter. It is now the working young and their children who face the daunting challenge of getting on in an economy skewed against them.
Homeownership, taken as a given by many in my generation, is out of reach for too many aspiring young people today. At the same time as tightening their belts, they are being asked to support a group that has fared relatively well in recent years.”
The problem is not that the balance of an “inter-generational contract” having “fallen out of kilter”. The problem is the Tories; the problem is austerity; indeed, the problem is Labour MPs who fight for equality by ensuring that the living conditions of working class people are equally sh*t.
This “race to the bottom” logic advocated by Field ignores the fact that British pensioners are already among the lowest-paid in western Europe, receiving just 38% of their average wages. This is compared with Holland and Austria where the figure is 90%, and Spain and Italy were pensioners receive 80% of their average wages.
The idea that pensioners in Britain have “fared relatively well in recent years” is simply another way of saying that although pensioners have been hit by austerity, they have not yet been smashed by it full in the face. The proposed cuts to pensions would change all of that, however.
This is not the first time that Field has helped to deflect blame from the Tories either. In 2012, Field, along with his Tory friend Nicholas Soames, issued a report that described immigration as the central problem for our already overstretched services. Predictably, this report was picked up by The Sun and The Daily Mail as a means for stoking up hatred against immigrants.
Clearly, the fact that council budgets have been run into the ground by Tory cuts has nothing to do with the decimation of our services.
None of this is surprising when you know something of Frank Fields’s background. Field was a close personal friend of the hated Tory Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, and, today, sits on the advisory board for the pro-privatisation think-tank Reform. In 2008, Field was included in the Telegraph’s “Top 100 Right Wing Thinkers”.
Field is also an outspoken critic of Jeremy Corbyn, as are the other Labour MPs who sit on the Committee for Work and Pensions: Karen Buck, Neil Coyle and Steve McCabe.
The fact that Frank Field is a Labour MP reveals much about the persistently right wing character of the Parliamentary Labour Party. Before Labour can be truly transformed into a party for the 99%, reselection contests will need to take place to ensure that the party reflects the views of its new members. The sooner we can pension off the likes of Frank Field, the better.