Having recently joined Pensioners for Independence, I’ve been thinking about the corollary: independence for pensioners. This being a pensioner business is a new phase of my life and one, when I was young and daft, I thought I didn’t need to think about as it was so far away. Well, it has come to pass though I feel little different inside.
As regards financial independence, I’ve got the advantage over many pensioners in Scotland of having a works pension to keep me going until I get my state pension in 3 years; however this’ll be 6 years after I thought I’d be getting it originally. I have no objection to men and women getting this pension at the same age but I do feel for the women over 60 without works pensions who have to work on till 66, or depend on benefits meaning they have to keep on applying for lowpaid jobs which they’re highly unlikely to get. They might have been out of work for several years, so not paying National Insurance contributions, to either bring up children or act as carers for aging parents, not to mention all the domestic work they’ve had to do. As for the young folk who’re just going into the workforce, I dread to think when they’ll be released.
Looking at pension information from other European countries, we can see that the UK pays about 1/3 of what German pensioners get and less than 1/2 of the pension in France (nyebevannews.co.uk). In Iceland, a man’s state pension is 72% of the average wage and in Ireland it’s 42%; the corresponding figure for a man in the UK is 29% (https://data.oecd.org/chart/54J2). The OECD demonstrated in 2017 that the UK has the lowest stage pension of any developed country.
During the referendum campaign in 2014, we were getting told that a Yes vote would endanger our pensions. Nonsense, of course, but very effective at frightening the old. Even The Scotsman pointed out in May 2014 that state pensions would still be paid after independence despite concerns raised by Better Together; the Department for Work and Pensions said that Scotland becoming independent would have no effect on the state pension: pensioners would continue to receive it as they do at present.
More recently however, Philip Hammond suggested that state pensions might not be protected from cuts after 2020 and Frank Field’s committee of MPs want triple lock pensions scrapped. Of course, Philip Hammond is no longer the UK Chancellor and only a fool would predict who might be doing that job after 2020. Or if Scotland will be standing where it did. The number of pensioners in Scotland is due to rise by 240,000 according to recent figures so we desperately need more folk of working age in the country.
As a pensioner, I’ve got some freedom of movement now. I got my bus pass at 60 but have to say I felt a bit guilty about using it when I was still working part-time. I’ve now also got a railcard which gets me a one third reduction on fares. I like getting out and about and believe in getting involved in bus and train life. I was the only person to respond to a bloke on the bus recently who sat at the front, took a large swig out of his bottle of British sherry and then shouted out, “Is Tony Blair still alive?” Maybe I was the only person who knew or cared but that was it for the rest of the journey: he was making random observations and I was answering / commenting, much to the displeasure of the couple sitting behind him who were clearly working on the principle that if they ignored him, he’d go away. Well, not me.
Independence of mind would be a great thing to hold on to, though the older I get, the less sure I am that I’m right and I find myself coming out with previously underused phrases such as “I’m not sure about that…” or “Maybe I’m wrong … “. I’ve come a bit late to the shades-of-grey party. I have to say though there are limits on that: I hope I never turn into a Tory or a racist. And I hope I continue to object to these attitudes when I hear them expressed.
Up till now, I’ve been mainly reliant on the bairns when it comes to dealing with this laptop and my new phone but the more I read about our digital age, the more I think we older folk need to be less feartie when confronted with new technology and make sure we’re more up to speed with what’s going on and how we can be manipulated by media propoganda. Shona Craven was writing on 1 October in The National about how Boris Johnson and his supporters are using certain words – “bus and “bridge” – deliberately to push negative stories about him down the rankings of search engines. In addition, he referred to himself as a “model of restraint” to maybe confuse folk searching for him in connection with the “model” Jennifer Arcuri. I’d have had no idea about this but will certainly be aware of it now.
I’m not saying that I accept everything the bairns tell me. It was Rama who first taught me to text but when I asked about how to do capital letters and punctuation, he said that neither were needed and so I had to work it out for myself. I was reading recently that using a full stop at the end of a text can be interpreted as being passive-aggressive; what havers! It signifies that you’re done with what you want to say, surely?
And they certainly don’t accept all of my advice and suggestions. I asked the loon if he’d like a travelling rug for his new – and his first – car and the message came back “What is that?” I explained it was what the Queen Mother used to have over her knees at the Braemar Gathering and that it would come in very handy if he was ever stuck in the car overnight or if he had a passenger complaining of being chilly or if he wanted to have a roadside picnic. None of these scenarios struck him as being likely ones. Nor did he want a book of road maps as he was perfectly happy with his phone. I get such a lot of pleasure from looking at features on a map, even when I know the road quite well but some of these young ones don’t seem to be interested in the bigger picture.
Grace Dent – who’s a lot, lot younger than me – had a very good article in The Guardian on 19 October entitled “Once I was a young radical ..” . She contrasted her previous life when she was fighting Mrs Thatcher and freeing Nelson Mandela, with her current fretting over why young lassies are painting on artificial eyebrows. Oh yes, I thought, that’s Me Too.
I want to keep reading and learning. Someone said recently that they wanted to die just after they’d turned over the last page of the last unread book in their house. I have a lot of unread books but I also purposefully use my local library, sometimes taking out books I’ve already read because I couldn’t remember what happened at the end. I’ve noticed however that I can now give up on books rather than waste time on what I’m not appreciating or understanding; this is when I’m definitely thinking that life is too short to keep on with them.
Bodily independence is very important to me but, alas, will not always be within my control. I’m trying to look after my health without being over-imaginative about minor aches and pains. I know all about eating healthily and exercising, getting outside into the fresh air; it’s just I need to put the theory into practice more regularly. I remember Yeats wrote: “Bodily decrepitude is wisdom / Young, we loved each other and were ignorant”. But how to hold on to those magic moments when the wisdom is achieved before physical decay renders it worthless?
I never want to be a drain on the NHS and get so annoyed when folk run it down or misuse it. At the moment, it takes 42% of Scotland’s public spending and that’s likely to go up to 50% so surely we all have a duty to use it responsibly – only at point of need, not because we’ve been foolish or neglectful.
When I feel I’ve had my day, I’m inspired by young people, especially the climate strikers, who’re being left to deal with the mess we’ve made of this world. We need to own up and take responsibility for our part in this emergency; it’s not too late to stop being selfish, turn down the radiators and get our cardigans on.
I want to pay tribute to the young lassies from Strathclyde University at the recent All Under One Banner march in Edinburgh in their colourful outfits and big boots; they were singing and cavorting through the puddles, dancing with precise steps to the tune of a following piper while the march was briefly halted. They were posing obligingly for photos, while bellowing their coorse slogan which was also painted on a sheet. The future’s in safe hands, I hope, if these young women are more representative of their generation than those who were queuing up outside Victoria’s Secret in Buchanan Street on its opening day.
The Desiderata prose poem below might make you want to boak, or it could comfort / inspire you ; it’s the latter for me as I first read it at an impressionable age and the feelings it evoked then have stayed with me over the years. It’s sometimes mistakenly said that it dates from a 17th century New England churchyard but it was written by a German American callled Max Ehrmann in 1927. In the version below, it probably should read “Be cheerful” rather than “Be careful” near the end; I recently read about this error in some prints and think it makes more sense in the context.
I’m not saying these are my rules for my old age, but they’re not far off.