Well I got back from the Pensioners Convention at about half-two, and sat down with the intention of doing some serious blogging. But I read a couple of comments, thought, sod 'em and went to make my own small contribution towards kickstarting the fiscal stimulus. I now feel much better.
It was actually the South Central and West Pensioners Convention, with only a couple of locals there. And it was to mark the centenary of the state pension. (Fact - when the state pension was introduced in 1908 only 25% of people lived to pensionable age, and most of them only survived a few years after that; now it's 80% and many of them live into their 80s or 90s).
My fellow panel speakers included Tim Lezard (NUJ/ Chair of SW TUC, decent bloke), someone from the NPC who was allowed to speak for longer than the rest of us put together despite it being billed as a 'politicians question time', and Stephen Williams MP, who was meant to be speaking on 'Lib Dem Policy for the Future' but devoted most of his speech to Lloyd George. As an audience member said, it's a long way from Lloyd George to Nick "the pension? it's about £30 pw" Clegg. Stephen also claimed John Maynard Keynes (a Liberal) for the Lib Dems. Not sure how Keynesian £20bn of spending cuts is... or have they ditched that policy? It is so difficult keeping up.
We were almost in a tub of lard situation when it came to the final slot on the panel, as the organisers just couldn't, despite numerous phone calls, get a Conservative MP to take part. In the end The Only Tory in Town was persuaded to take part (allegedly after Tory Central Office wielded the cosh). She got off pretty lightly, considering her party's record on pensions.
Very lively debate. The NPC are, almost to a man and woman, against means-testing, whereas I believe that additional help (i.e. on top of the basic state pension, which is universal) should be directed towards those that need it most, but with a tapering off so as not to penalise people with modest savings or smallish private pensions. I accept this is bureaucratic and there's a problem with take-up; 1.8 million pensioners don't claim all they're entitled to, and I wish the NPC would do more to work with us on a take-up campaign. But I still think it's better than spreading the jam more thinly. Other issues included restoration of the earnings link, which is due in 2012, but that's not the panacea - at the moment, earnings growth is lower than inflation, so they'd actually be worse off. The NPC is campaigning for it to be whatever is higher, earnings growth or the RPI, which seems only fair to me.
P.S. Stephen Williams agreed with the audience member who said they're weren't enough old people on TV; he said only the young and beautiful ever appear on reality TV/ talent shows. Where has he been all week?