K. Michaels

Guns or Butter?

(September 1954)

From Socialist Review, Vol. 4 No. 1, September 1954, pp. 5–6.
Transcribed by Ian Birchall, Nina Kidron & Richard Kuper.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

The treatment meted out to the Old Age Pensioners is shocking. The 42 resolutions on pensions before Conference shows the rank and file of the Labour Party unanimous in its appeal for the raising of the miserable pittance on which the producers of our wealth are forced to exist.

The Tories have done nothing about it in spite of fine words. They swear that the increase in the pensionable population over the next 25 years will place intolerable burdens on the Treasury. Is this true?

Whatever the case, whether the Government increase pensions or not, elderly people are not going to disappear as soon as they have stopped being a source of profits. Somebody will have to support them. If it is not the state, it will be the worker and his wife who, anyway, have enough difficulty in trying to raise a family while a hostile Tory Government keeps cutting into social services and does nothing to prevent prices from rising.

Not raising the Old Age Pensioners to a level consistent with decent living standards is just another way of taxing the working class.

Besides, as the population grows older, the number of children grows smaller. The total non-working population to be supported by the population of active workers will hardly change. Thirty years ago, for every 100 workers there were 124 dependants; to-day there are 120 dependants for every 100 workers; in 25 years’ time there will be only 126 (From a study prepared by the Institute of Actuaries: The Growth of Pension Rights and their Impact on the National Economy). The difference is negligible.

Another document, the Memorandum drawn up by the National Federation of Professional Workers “arrived at the conclusion that the increase in productivity required over the next 25 years to maintain existing standards of living, in face of the ageing population ... is not more than 5 per cent.” Now, productivity last year went up by 3 per cent, and can easily be maintained at that rate. If increased output is not dissipated in war production nor squandered in amassing profits, we can take the OAP’s in our stride.

The Chancellor contributes £70 millions to the National Insurance Fund. He also agreed to a war budget of £1,640 million, 23 times more. Obviously when the Government and the productive machine that supports it becomes more and more geared to a war economy, Old Age Pensioners become both “expendable” and expensive.

Profits amounting to over 4 milliard pounds are made in this country every year! Tax concessions amounting to £200 millions have been made to industry by the Tory government and income tax reductions which benefited the higher income groups in the main totalled another £335 million. Nothing has been given the Old Age Pensioners. Even the £51 million demanded for them by the Parliamentary Labour Party seem ridiculously small in such company.

The issue of the Old Age Pensioners has roused the whole country. It could have spearheaded a major fight by the Labour Party against the Tories, a fight that would have had immense popular appeal. But no Labour M.P.’s were too busy squabbling with the Tories about their own salaries. Instead of abolishing “pairing” in an issue affecting masses of elderly people who have no means of putting pressure on the public, they do so on an issue affecting 600 families placed in the most strategic position.

Conference must put an end to this shameful position. It must support the resolution which demands that old age pensions “be tied to the cost of living index subject to periodic review” (Cheetham, C.L.P.) as part of the wider demand for a “sliding scale of adequate pensions based on new and realistic cost-of-living indices.”

Last updated on 16 February 2017