Invisible At 60? The Mobilisation Of Britain’s ‘Grey Vote’.

The renowned British poet, T.S.Eliot, once commented that ‘The young feel tired at the end of an action. The old at the beginning’. This doesn’t seem to have applied,  however, to the 94-year-old man from Harlow (Essex) who recently fought off a burglar by punching him in the face. The intruder (in his late ‘20’s) fled empty-handed. In another highly-publicised case at the end of last year, an 84-year-old war veteran intervened to stop two teenagers stealing Rolex watches from a jewellery shop in Richmond, Surrey.  The (much younger) people waiting at a nearby bus-stop just stood and watched. These two senior citizens probably share the view of American actress Billie Burke that “Age is something that doesn’t matter, unless you are a cheese”. Many of their UK contemporaries, however, may be a little less convinced.


According to the Office For National Statistics (ONS), there will be almost 12 million pensioners in Britain by 2010 – half a million more than the number of children under 16. These figures include 2.7 million over-‘80’s (a 100% rise from 1981) who now comprise 5% of the total population. Similar dramatic demographic changes are taking place in continental Europe. In Italy, there will be 44% more 65-year-olds by 2050 and consequently an increase from 32% to 67%  in  ‘the dependency ratio’ (those surviving on the taxes and national insurance contributions paid by the diminishing working age sector). Even in France (which has a higher birth-rate) this  ratio will almost double to 51% over the same period. One obvious solution – delaying the retirement age – has been considered and rejected (as too unpopular) by most European Union (EU) countries. Except for Britain. Here the Government is planning to change it from the current 60 (for women) and 65 (men) to 68.  The ‘Age Concern’ charity and the Pensioners Party anyway consider the UK State Pension  (£90.70p per week for a single person) to be completely inadequate. ‘Aon Consulting’ have rated it as ‘the worst in Europe’ – just 17% of  an average salary compared to 57% in the rest of |the EU, where a  pension is usually calculated on the basis of a person’s previous earnings rather than the British system of a fixed amount.


The UK’s low state pension and high cost of living has resulted in 1.3 million pensioners continuing to work (an increase of 8.8% from 2007), either because they don’t want to find themselves ‘on the scrap-heap’ or they can’t afford to stop.  Some companies (such as ASDA, who have 2,300 employees over 65, and B&Q) operate no official age limit for recruitment or retirement. They are, though, still in a minority. Research by  Prudential Insurance has revealed that the majority of British pensioners  are ‘property rich but cash poor’: Their homes have gained substantially in value (until the recession) but they have very little money . Around 25% of them are totally reliant on the £4,381 annual state pension – insufficient to cover their financial commitments; 40%  (4.5 million) manage on under £10,000 pa and 50% of the three & half million ‘singles’ on less than £6,000 pa. This has resulted in many of them being obliged to choose between ‘heating or eating’. Those who carefully saved over the years have been badly hit by the 1.5% Bank of England interest rate (the lowest since 1694). Their anticipated source of income has evaporated. Investments in private Pension Funds are also now at risk in the economic crisis.


The Government does provide some help, such as: a Winter Fuel Payment (£250 for the over 60’s, £400 after 80), a free TV licence at 75, no charge for prescriptions or eye-tests and the Freedom Pass (free travel on London’s transport network) after 60. These benefits have not been enough, however, to dissuade many older Britons ( an estimated 3,325,000 by 2020) from moving abroad.  Much of the UK’s ‘Grey Vote’ feels deceived and abandoned by Prime Minister Gordon Brown. He may regret this when he finally calls the General Election which has to take place at the latest by 3rd June 2010.





Filed under: Politics | Posted on January 25th, 2009 by Colin D Gordon

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