Old Age Pensions

10 Mar

Next year my partner Jackie will turn sixty. For most of her working life that had been the age of eligibility for a state pension the OECD says is the lowest in the developed world.1  But as you may have noticed, the goal posts have shifted.

Of course, many of the world’s workers and peasants have no pension at all. A UN report from 2017 tells us that:

  • 95% of people above retirement age get a pension in Europe, compared with 26% in Central and Southern Asia and 23% in sub-Saharan Africa.
  • Contributory pension schemes are low in these and other developing regions.
  • Tax-financed pensions, provided in 114 of 192 countries, often do not provide income security.
  • Pension coverage is lower among women than men since women live longer and are disadvantaged in the labour market.2

The social contract operating in the Western world since 1945, and discussed in a recent post, was premised on two conditions – the global north’s extraction of super profits from the south, and the need for ‘caring capitalism’ in the face of the challenge from the Soviet Union.

The first condition still holds but not the second. Since capitalism’s natural state is that race to the bottom we now call neoliberalism, the social contract will not be retained simply because it is affordable. As a matter of systemic fact this is an impossibility and those who tout the idea of a ‘less rampant’ capitalism – a Third Way, as many dreamers (and a few knaves) have it – grasp neither the nature and origins of profit nor the iron laws of capital accumulation.

Led by the USA and UK, the West at large is tearing up the social contract because the business case for it vanished with the Soviet Union. Since when the world has been systematically, and in many cases violently, privatised.3

I don’t say the ruling classes wanted the crash of 2007/8. I do say they have – with customary zeal and even while their share of total wealth produced has soared – exploited it to shrink the state in an accelerated shredding of the social contract we call ‘austerity’.4

Hence Monsieur Macron’s little altercation with les gilets jaunes. Hence my partner having to wait a further seven years for her pension.


  1. For ‘developed world’ read ‘imperialism’, my shorthand definition being the global north-to-south export of capital, and south-to-north repatriation of profits.
  2. The ‘feminising’ of labour in the global south is discussed in John Smith’s Imperialism in the twenty-first century. Using IMF data, Smith finds not only that capital is drawn southwards by cheap labour, ‘business friendly’ regimes and traditional family values and structures which absolve state and employer alike of social care responsibility. He also finds that bringing women in large numbers into the workforce of industrialising nations, again because they are cheaper and – to begin with – more compliant, soon worsens conditions for both sexes.
  3. Privatisation is not the only driver of ‘our’ wars on the Middle East but, as shown in the case of Iraq by Naomi Klein’s outstanding empirical work in The Shock Doctrine, it is assuredly one of them. It was also a key driver of the Cold War given that the USSR blocked one sixth of the world’s land mass to private profit. Since (a) this truth was seldom grasped by a brainwashed public in the West, and (b) Putin called time on the feeding frenzy under Yeltsin, most people are at a loss to say – beyond a few sound bytes on “Russian aggression” in places they couldn’t point to on a map, in circs they know nothing about and in any case left in the dust by US led carnage in the global south – why Russia remains a bête noire. Nor is raised state pension age in the UK and France separable from privatisation. While most of the ‘debate’ centres on breach of promise, with millions condemned to working years longer than they’d foreseen, private pension providers are eying the opportunities created in exactly the same way private health providers and fund managers across the “developed world” are sizing up the vast markets opened up by a creepingly privatised NHS.
  4. Update 11/03/20 – reading this paragraph again the next day I see it could be taken as suggesting, anachronistically, that the squeeze on pensions was enabled solely by the crash. It wasn’t, and I speak of an interplay of factors – ideological, financial and political – in relations causal, catalytic and synchronised by zeitgeist. Of Ian Duncan Smith’s talk of a “need” to raise state pension age to 75 I note two things. One, the crash did its bit to prime us for permanent ‘austerity’. Two, bourgeois culture is unable to distinguish “we need to raise pension age to 75” from “to maintain profits we need to raise pension age to 75″. As with other aspects of capitalism’s non negotiable drive to subordinate every other consideration to the dictates of profit, so steeped are we in said bourgeois culture, so locked in its ideological grip, that we have for all practical purposes lost the ability to differentiate a physical impossibility from an impossibility within capitalism.

9 Replies to “Old Age Pensions

  1. I can’t fault your analysis Phil and I wouldn’t try. I retired at 63 so spent a couple of years on JSA before reaching what was then statutory age. The worst part of this were the subtle indignities imposed on it’s supplicants by the DWP under it’s chief panjandrum Ian Duncan Smith. Those without personal experience can check out the Sleaford Mods song ‘Jobseeker’ for an insight into the ritual humiliations imposed fortnightly on claimants. Not the least of which is the faux respect with which the memaced ‘sanctions’ are masked. This song was penned, incidentally, by a disillusioned benefits advisor and serves as a fair critique of the current system.
    The allowance isn’t much when you can get it. It allows you to survive but you feel that your dexterity in clearing the hurdles is somehow resented and taken as proof that you don’t really deserve to be helped.

    On reaching the magic number the rest is a breeze and I wondered what I had so dreaded about being out of the fray during years of toil at the coal face.

    Not to belittle the hardships imposed on those who haven’t got much but we live in a place that makes at least some provision for the less fortunate however grudgingly this is given. You can thank the Unions and the Labour Party for this, the Tories mainly the grudging bit!

    • Just to pick up on one of your points, Mick, “the rest is a breeze”. I didn’t want to litter this post with too many tangential observations but I’m aware that these are golden years for such as you and me. We still have our health and fitness (though I’d give my right arm for just half the energy I had in my forties) and the time to enjoy them. Those now condemned to working until their late sixties (with seventy-five openly mooted by the very IDS you cite) are not just being robbed of money on the back of a broken promise. They are also being robbed of what in my experience have been among the best years of my entire life.

  2. And the worst thing about them shifting the goal posts is that they can do that in a second whereas it takes you years to reach the current goal posts. I have the feeling that the old age pension will be like a retreating mirage. And that’s for those who (supposedly) have it. Pardon the language but the young are well and truly fucked. As John McMurtry says somewhere, the most vile indication of this capitalist pathology is its complete contempt for the future – embodied most obviously in its complete contempt for the rising generation. Over forty years ago when John Lydon sang “There’s no future” – he was right. He was just a bit premature.

    • As noted in my reply to Mick, IDS has been touting seventy-five as the pensionable age. So we will all feel relieved when it turns out to be ‘only’ seventy-two!

  3. The pension is just one casualty of this neoliberalism. Another is unemployment benefit. My friend had a breakdown recently – partly due to a bereavement but also partly due to losing a pub job that gave him a surrogate family and basically a reason to live. After a few other pub jobs serving for a shower of bastards who didn’t even pay regularly, he turned up gassed and got sacked. He is now on anti-depressants and “universal credit” – this latter where you have to wait a month before the first cheque thereby forcing you to take out a loan so that you are thereafter forcibly reminded that YOU owe THEM. Barbaric.

  4. The observation in note 3 regarding a “brainwashed” citizenry generates several pertinent observations.

    Firstly, this recent article based on research into the media reporting on UK foreign policy succinctly details the problem of one sided and biased information driving increasing numbers of the population to act against their own best interests:


    Simply because what is true in regard to the reporting of foreign policy is also the case in regards domestic, economic, social, political and cultural policies. See also here:


    Secondly, this was demonstrated to me yesterday in a email conversation exchange with someone of my long (working) acquaintance who has fallen hook, line, sinker and copy of Angling Times for the Brexit narrative of Farage, Johnson, Rees-Mogg et al.

    I had sent an email link to a TUC tweet comparing sick pay provision across Europe (with the UK at the bottom of the league table) and received a response which essentially argued that the reason places like Poland, for example, have better pension provision than the UK is down to the fact the UK pays more in to the EU and is, by implication, subsidising other member states to the detriment of our own citizens and things will improve now we have taken back control.

    Having been through similar conversation loops on our weekly walks in which inconvenient facts – like comparing the £435 billion QE incurred debt with the £7.8 billion (0.28% of GDP) net contribution to the EU; the fact of the UK being a larger more prosperous economy than other EU economies who provide better pensions etc – are simply ignored in favour of repeating the same spoon fed bullshit in a seemingly endless loop of confirmation bias, it is a depressing thought that whether on the self labelled right or left (see Syria, self ID, and Russia(gate) as just three examples) the evidence suggests that the larger part of the populace seems to be trapped in the behavioural pattern of managers in a hierarchy.

    As anyone who has worked in such an environment will attest the problem with management hierarchies is that any ideas from below challenge the hierarchical authority. Which results in the hierarchy choosing between being right or being in control. And more often not the hierarchy would rather be in control and wrong.

    Which leads to the third observation. Despite the reality of the amount of disinformation and absence of the fourth estate doing its job – as detailed in the Daily Maverick link above – experience and observation suggests that even if this were not the case and the media culture was the exact opposite it would make little difference.

    In a context in which information is available with a few clicks of a keyboard too many people, probably a majority, would rather take the easy option of believing whatever feeds and satisfies their own subjective prejudices than get off their backsides and inform themselves. As Karl Rove implied, it’s far easier to live in your own individually created reality than live in the reality based Community.

    I guess the point being made is that it is only possible to do so much spoon feeding. At some point people need to get off their arse and take some responsibility for properly informing themselves. And it seems reasonable to observe most people can’t be arsed.

    This is why we are where we are. Because most people on these islands would rather believe the lies that the emperor is wearing a fine suit of clothes rather than being completely stark bollock naked. Presenting objective evidence based information and arguments simply challenges what too many people have committed themselves to psychologically and brought into. As a result inconvenient facts, information and realities are ignored regardless of the consequences.

    Which is why the Darwin awards exist.

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