Belfast Telegraph

Malachi O'Doherty: Raising the retirement age for women is the same as stealing £30k from their bank accounts

David Cameron should have done the decent thing and admitted the scale of his crime, writes Malachi O'Doherty

David Cameron
David Cameron

By Malachi O'Doherty

When faced with a massive shortfall in available cash after deciding to pay the gambling debts of bankers, the British Government came up with a scam that you'd think would not have worked. It decided to require every woman in the country at the age of 60 to donate £30,000 to the Treasury.

Of course, presentation is everything, so this was described as a raising of the pension age in the interests of gender equality. And that neutralised the argument that this was simply theft.

It stalled any likely revolt among two key sections of society more likely than others to be a little truculent when faced with injustice: men and young people.

Wasn't it only fair that women should not be privileged to have their pensions at 60 when men had to wait until they were 65, and now 66, coming up to 67?

And what has it got to do with me, asks the 22-year-old, who has no realistic expectation that the state pension will still be available, or worth anything, if it is in 50 years from now.

Yet, this was theft. This was a breach of contract with women, who, at 16, like me, entered into a national insurance scheme, committing to make decades of contributions in return for a pension at a pre-determined age: 60 for women and 65 for men.

The actual effect of this plunder is no different at all than if the Government was taking money directly out of their bank accounts. It leaves women needing to work longer and find other sources of income.

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Okay, many will seek to replace the stolen money through other state benefits like jobseeker's allowance, requiring them to submit reports on their efforts to find jobs that aren't there.

Last week the High Court ruled that women who had this con trick foisted upon them, without being properly informed of how sleekit their Government actually is, had no right to have their £30,000 and more a piece restored to them.

Next year the pension age - laughably called the retirement age, as if £130 a week freed anyone of the need to work - will rise to 66.

That's another £6,000 or so taxed from everyone, men and women.

Later, it goes up to 67.

But conning pensioners out of their money has been the sort of lark Governments have been getting up to for a long time. Margaret Thatcher did away with the pension not being taxable.

Okay, the threshold for income tax is now higher than the state pension, so if you are as poverty-stricken as Government provision would determine, you won't pay tax.

But, then, when you do get a part-time job to augment this sliver of an allowance, you find that you pay tax on that a lot quicker than you ever did on money you earned in the past.

Yet, every time we hear a discussion on news and current affairs programmes about the injustice of eroding and slicing off chunks of the state pension, the question is raised about whether this limited protection of pensions is unfair to the young.

A word to the young: you're going to be old yourself some day. It is in your interests as much as mine to force Government to raise and defend pension provision. As also to fund social care, dementia services and the bus pass.

Along with this fantasy that people may now work until they are older is another reality which conflicts with it - the erosion of employment prospects through automation and artificial intelligence.

In a few years from now you won't need a driver when you call a taxi. The sat nav will drive the car. So, one of the big self-employment opportunities for the older person will disappear.

There will probably be a voice-activated chatterbox built into the dashboard, which will say things like: "Hey, your man Farage is a right carry-on, ain't he?"

Already we have automated checkouts at supermarkets.

The only thing that is preserving the jobs of cashiers is that other people as badly paid as themselves don't have debit cards, so queue to pay with real money.

A lot of us don't have money in our pockets anymore and an effect of that, I find, is that, after paying for a meal with a card, I have nothing to pay a tip with. So, I remind myself to have a few coins with me next time. But will I?

I was doing a reading from my new book at the Aspects Arts Festival on Thursday last with Seamus McKee in the grand surroundings of Bangor Castle.

I talked of how, for a year, in the 50th anniversary of the civil rights campaign, I had gone to every street protest in Belfast to write about them.

A woman at the back had a question. Why were all these people campaigning for gay rights and Palestine and not taking to the streets over homelessness? She might have added the erosion of the state pension, the depletion of the health service so that it is now routine for people to dip into their pensions to pay for hip replacements.

When did my right to identify as gay, or female, become more important than decent affordable housing?

Indeed - though she didn't say this - when did the Irish language become more important than literacy?

Or the Union flag in the City Hall more important than opposing Universal Credit or the bedroom tax?

And it is true that something has changed and while national identity and culture, gender identity and the right to marry are hugely important for some people, they can also be viewed as the sort of distractions from real issues that will have public-spending cutters laughing up their sleeves at us.

Perhaps the reality is that the poor and sick and the lonely who need state support don't have the energy to protest, or even the numbers to make much of a difference at election time.

Priti Patel will get more of them into prison, and then they won't have a vote anyway.

David Cameron should have done the honest thing in 2011 when he stole £30,000 from every woman in the country reaching the age of 60.

He should have just declared, like Pharaoh, the scale of his crime.

Pharaoh and Herod, when they went after the first-born son and the holy innocents, did not pretend that they were introducing a family welfare scheme. Today they would.

They weren't that clever.

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