Using pensions to incentivise volunteering is barmy

http://www.stockfreeimages.com/LORD Bichard a crossbench peer who retired at the age of 53  and is currently in receipt of a £120,000 a year civil service pension, has come up with some bright suggestions which would ‘encourage’ older people to do ‘voluntary work’ for their pensions.

 

Bichard’s comments at the committee investigating the impact of demographic changes on the public sector merit reading.

 

‘Are there ways in which we could use incentives to encourage older people, if not to be in full time work, to be making a contribution?’ he asks. Apparently, Lord Bichard is in favour of using pensions to ‘incentivise’ retired people to be useful members of society, as he sees it.

 

This, in my respectful view, is one of the barmiest ideas to have been presented to a parliamentary committee for a long time. It betrays seriously worrying attitudes about older people and their value to society.

According to the BBC report Lord Bichard went as far as to ask, ‘Are we using all of the incentives at our disposal to encourage older people not just to be a negative burden on the state but actually be a positive part of society?’.

 

Bichard’s idea of incentives is not only worrying, it is naive. ‘We are now prepared to say to people who are not looking for work, if you don’t look for work you don’t get benefits, so if you are old and you are not contributing in some way or another maybe there is some penalty attached to that,’ he said.

 

Does he not appreciate that people have contributed to their pension schemes over a life time? Making them ‘earn’ their pensions all over again by undertaking some kind of imposed civic duty would be impossible to  enforce, give ‘volunteering’ a bad name and saddle the Department for Work and Pensions with utterly unmanageable problems in enforcement.

 

Imagine the protests and the impact of the ‘grey vote’ rebellion which would surely ensue at the next election if such ideas were implemented! No Government would contemplate it. The notion should be consigned to the ‘potty ideas’ folder for sure.

 

Maybe Lord Bichard has not heard of the adverse publicity community service and work experience schemes have attracted recently when introduced for the unemployed as part of the Government’s Work Programme.

 

Let’s face it, however sensible such schemes may be as part of a package of measures to get people job ready, they don’t go down well when they connote a work for nothing image.

 

Expecting pensioners to work or volunteer on pain of losing their pensions would cause a sensation. Which other civilised country forces its pensioners to work for their pensions? I am preparing my petition to the European Court of Human Rights, and the UN in anticipation.

 

But anyway, does Lord Bichard not perhaps realise that older people are working longer of their own volition anyway? They are doing so often as not because their savings and pensions are inadequate.

 

It is worrying enough as it is that people should be forced by fears of poverty to work in retirement. Fears that the state would take away their pensions if they didn’t ‘volunteer’ would represent coercion of a different order of magnitude.

 

But it is all very well to talk of encouraging or incentivising older people to get jobs – it is not that easy. In fact older job seekers encounter significant difficulties finding work and have the biggest problems of long term unemployment as it is as TAEN’s comments on the labour statistics regularly demonstrate.

 

For Lord Bichard to talk of older people being ‘a negative burden on the state’ betrays insensitivity and ignorance of the roles that most older people take on anyway.

 

They don’t need to be told to care for others – they spend many millions of hours doing so at the moment.

 

The value of the contribution of older people, including those who are retired, is enormous. Consider for one moment the resentment that would be caused if they were told they had to do such ‘volunteering’ as the price of claiming something they have a perfect right to receive.

 

I really can’t imagine any Government embracing this one, but then stranger things have happened.

 

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