4. Jan, 2017

BRITISH SHAME! The Betrayal of Post-war Pensioners by the British Government

4 January 2017

Party politics promotes the idea of ‘dignity in old age’ and ‘preservation of pensions values’ despite the fact that British state pensions are among the lowest of any country in the developed world. What politicians say rarely is what they mean and never what they intend.

During the coming weeks, in this Blog, I will tell the disgraceful story of British pensions and how politicians dispossessed 500,000 British pensioners of the pensions they contributed towards all their working lives – and that at a time when private pensions for the ordinary citizen were few and far between. MPs cared and still care nothing for the fact that many of those frozen pensioners fought in WW2 and then returned to help rebuild a shattered Britain – gun fodder through the war and gun fodder back home!

The origin of the state pension dates back to the early 1900s and the Great War of 1914-18. Returning soldiers were promised ‘a country fit for heroes’; for many, the reality was unemployment, poverty and near-starvation. And this was before the Great Depression of the 1920s and 1930s! When the government offered subsidised emigration to countries of the British Empire (in the early post-WW2 years The Commonwealth Office still promoted Rhodesia [Zimbabwe] as a grand place to settle), the majority who volunteered were found to be unacceptable because of malnutrition.

At the same time, the aristocratic ruling class of British government ministers were conscious of the people’s uprising in Russia and the spate of upper-class assassinations across Europe. They feared a similar uprising in England from the mass of population living in poverty and who had little to lose. They needed something that could be introduced quickly, which would have an immediate effect, and would cost as little as possible (they did not want to increase taxation or reduce the substantial subsidies doled out to wealthy landowners, including themselves). The answer was the altruistic-sounding, though petty in substance, ‘pensions for the elderly’. At a time when Poor Laws and Workhouses still operated in many areas, the pittance level of these payments nevertheless enabled the elderly poor to have some dignity; in the presence of mostly extended poor families, often those meagre payments were the only means of avoiding total starvation.

MPs continually complained about payments to “these ungrateful people who now will have no reason to work” even when it was pointed out that it cost more to feed an MP’s dog than the amount awarded to a pensioner couple. In 1925, MPs voted to replace the pension payments with a contributory scheme. Pensions were payable at local Post Offices to residents in Britain only since there were no British Post Offices in overseas countries (though people returning to UK could claim accumulated back-payments). However, from 1929, overseas payments were made to ex-government officials through British Consulate offices in 'His Majesty's Dominions'.

Until 1946, that pension remained at ten shillings (£0.50) a week, when it was increased to twenty-six shillings (£1.30) a week; at the same time, MPs awarded pensions of thousands of pounds a year to certain public officials. However, even that minimal payment was confined to residents in Britain; Parliament said this was because of the forthcoming National Insurance Scheme which would introduce a higher level of pension to which overseas residents were not expected to contribute. The scene was set for the first betrayal!

In the early post-WW2 years, the Empire-loving British Establishment had to come to terms with independence for India and Pakistan in 1947, followed by Burma (Myanmar) and Ceylon (Sri Lanka) the following year. Gradually more countries became independent from British rule, events which were to influence future British pensioners. In the wings of government, the secret circle of Cecil Rhodes followers, which had dominated government through two major wars (which I will deal with in a future blog), were still active in promoting the concept of ‘Empire’ and Britain’s Colonial superiority. This underbelly would demand the next betrayal!

For now, there was one more decision passed by MPs which would have a lasting effect, and which has caused the frozen pensions injustice to continue for more than sixty years – Parliament granted to the Chancellor of the Exchequer the right to impose ‘regulations’ without the prior consent of MPs. MPs could reject a set of regulations as a whole, but could not reject one regulation nestled in the middle of a Parliamentary instrument. The scene was set for infamy, betrayal and injustice which Churchill, still active in politics though now in opposition, would never have condoned.

The Colonial Establishment had to wait until the great man retired ten years after the new 1946 pensions’ scheme had been agreed!

Next episode: The Betrayals Begin