My mother was much given to declaring:
"I wouldn't do that for a pension."
Perhaps she still is fond of saying it, although she's now got a pension. I'm not sure where this phrase springs from, or how common it is, but its meaning is transparent.
There wasn't, of course, ever any pension actually on offer. It was my mother's response to the infinitely expandable list of things she was disinclined to do - go on a rollercoaster, say, or have root canal work done, or sit through the BBC's live Hogmanay broadcast.
The point of the phrase, I took it, was to emphasise how horrific the thing in prospect was, but as a child, I found it had the effect of suggesting that a pension was something particularly attractive, a passport to a comfortable, almost luxuriant, existence.
In political discourse, however, the word pensioner has the opposite effect. It's synonymous with disadvantaged but deserving - which, of course, many pensioners are.
But many are not; indeed the generation now of retirement age is, for the most part, the people who have benefited most from the welfare state and from the rise in prosperity and living standards over the past few decades.
As a demographic group, those of them with occupational pensions, and who own their own homes, tend to have greater assets and a higher disposable income than many people of working age.
Yet it is this group, and not the unemployed or immigrants or any of the other bêtes noires of right-wing politicians or newspapers, which is the single biggest recipient of benefit spending. The state pension alone is 47% of welfare spending - almost £75 billion annually. To put that into perspective, the UK's colossal debt repayments are less than two-thirds of that.
That is without considering any of the many other benefits - from winter fuel allowance to free bus passes - to which over-65s are entitled, or the fact that care, health and other sectors are, naturally enough, disproportionately directed towards the elderly.
I'm not suggesting that those living on the basic state pension are rich, or that they should not get those other provisions of welfare spending. Indeed, like Evelyn Waugh, I like almost everything about old people, and approve of supporting in retirement those who have worked and paid taxes all their lives.
But it is an uncomfortable fact that those taxes do not - despite the frequent protestation those who are retired "paid their stamps" towards their pensions - pay for the stipend the state provides.
Their taxes paid for the pensions of people who were retired then. Their pensions are paid for by people working now. And there are fewer of them than there used to be, and they are poorer than the baby boom generation were.
The problem for successive governments, which have all failed to do anything substantive about it, is that the aging population means that the pensions bill (which for government also means the huge number of occupational pensions for those who work in the public sector, some of which are underfunded or completely unfunded) is bound to continue rising.
The one small step that has been taken to deal with the difficulty has been the plan gradually to raise the state pension age to 66, then 67, and eventually 68. It's not an especially ruthless measure. When the state pension was introduced in 1909, life expectancy was 66 years, pension age was 70 and the benefit was means tested.
This extremely modest - and frankly inadequate - attempt to do something is, despite the grumblings of the TUC and other predictable lobbying groups, pretty universally accepted.
For crying out loud, even the French are raising the retirement age (though Francois Hollande has delayed its introduction).
Across the UK, life expectancy has risen by more than a decade just since 1960. An ageing population and a falling birthrate, which has been the case in almost all Western countries over the past few decades, makes the measure a matter of straightforward demographics.
Unless, apparently, you are the Scottish Government. SNP ministers have suggested there would be a review of proposed pension changes in the event of a Yes vote "taking account of Scottish circumstances". These circumstances are the fact that Scots have a life expectancy between a year-and-a-half and two-and-a-half years shorter than the UK average.
Normally, I'd race to defend the heroic smokers, drinkers and pie-eaters who contribute much more than their fair share of tax, yet save the country millions by handing in their dinner pail early. But, while it would be nice if they got their fair whack before shuffling off this mortal coil early, there's a pretty compelling reason for opposing this idea. And that is that it is stark staring madness.
The UK Government has pointed out that not raising the pension age to 67 in 2026 will add £6 billion to the Scottish budget over a decade. I'm sure Nationalists will hasten to see this as the "negativity" characteristic of any attempt to point out a fact which the SNP finds inconvenient.
But even if, unlike me, you think an independent Scotland stands a good chance of being richer than it now is, this measure would be a pretty safe way to torpedo that ambition. It's the opposite of what almost every other country is doing - even prosperous states like Germany and China are raising the age of entitlement to state pensions.
Indiscriminate spending on people who have reached an arbitrary birthday, no matter what their material circumstances are, is not merely foolish and unaffordable. It is a way of reducing the money available to the poorest old people, and a sure-fire recipe for stoking up resentment among the younger generation.
Many of them already think, perfectly reasonably, that the imprudent borrowing, excessive spending and distortion of the property market by baby-boomers has robbed them of any chance of enjoying a similar standard of living.
From the Scottish Government's point of view, there is one thing to be said in favour of this utterly idiotic proposal. It is the same thing that accounts for the fact no-one has done anything really constructive to avert the looming catastrophe of pensions spending. That is, of course, that pensioners vote. Indeed, according to a survey conducted by the Labour Party, at the 2010 election one in every two votes cast was by someone over 55.
But unless voters and governments accept that prosperous and healthy people in their mid-60s shouldn't automatically get state handouts, we will soon find we cannot afford to support the increasing numbers of elderly people in real need.
It's basic arithmetic.
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