This is one of those mornings when one looks back with regret at having refused the chance to emigrate. Someone near to the allotments had erected a mass of flashing Christmas decorations in their front garden, now they are draped along our boundary hedge. Inside our domain, roof panels compete with fallen leaves and two coops have sunk into a sea of mud. And as we struggled to restore order a bitingly cold wind carried away our curses. Chicks at Easter are the stuff of dreams and painted eggs, chickens in December are a recipe for POIS which to the unitiated stands for pissed off in spades.
But for most of the gang things could be a great deal worse. All around us we see people suffering great hardship, not least the young people, many of whom in these parts are searching for work. Today we learn that the government is proposing to apply pressure to cancer sufferers with the threat of taking away their disability allowances should they fail to satisfy ”back to work” panels that they are truly incapable of working. Clearly whichever halfwit came up with this wheeze has never endured the experience of cancer. The truth is that in their desperate search for more ways of reducing costs the government are looking in the wrong place.
As with their reluctance to tackle the nation’s big earners and tax evaders, Cameron and Osborne are also avoiding any move likely to offend their other supposedly big supporter’s group, the over-65s. But having the dubious privilege of being in that category does not necessarily mean that one is, as the Cockneys have it, brassic-lint. Some of my pals are reliant on the state pension and there is no possibility that they could exist solely on that. But the majority of us enjoy a company pension awarded before the government began to destroy such things. To be blunt, we can manage perfectly well without winter fuel payments, bus passes, free TV licences and special tax allowances. Of course we like to have them but with so many younger people suffering real hardship, as against a reduction in pleasures, we can see no reason for special treatment simply because we are ancient.
Of all the bountiful gifts bestowed on us by politicians in the grip of obsessions about ‘grey voting power’, the most ludicrous of all is the bus pass. Most of us have never bothered to obtain one but we know many who have, and few of them really depend on them to get them from A to B, a feat that would be unaffordable without a free pass. Most of those we know who carry a pass in their purses or wallets regard them as a ticket to ride purely for the sake of riding somewhere. One couple have developed a hobby of travelling the length of the land, a journey of, presumably, a zillion bus stations and irritable drivers.
Nick Clegg recently said that millionaires who happen to be old should forego benefits such as bus passes, TV licences, fuel payments etc. He went on adovocate means testing, an emotion-firing term if ever there was one. Some high-profile figures have already taken action, the ‘Surviving Winter Appeal’, supported by the likes of Michael Parkinson, Jonathan Dimbleby, Ann Widdecombe and Joan Bakewell, calls on the better off to hand over their winter-fuel allowance of up to £300 to those in greater need. The scheme is to be applauded but essential welfare decisions should not be determined by charity.
Neither should they be determined by means testing or ludicrous talk of millionaires (Clegg has become so close to rich ministers that he imagines they are typical citizens). The simple way to tackle this issue is to use the tax system. Anyone sufficently flush to be paying tax at 40% could be excluded from elderly benefits. It would save a good deal of treasury expenditure which could then be used to further assist youth employment and care of the elderly infirm.
There is inevitably a caveat to this generous proposal from a bunch of codgers. Real action must be taken to tackle bankers and the rest of the top 1% of earners. We realise that they are the privileged friends of very rich government leaders but so long as they are allowed to pocket their millions without paying any tax to speak of, no one will volunteer to help, no one will truly feel that we are all in this mess together.
TRY YOUR HAND AT THE MIDWEEK QUIZ; 1. Which Gareth Gates hit contains the words “We’re caught in a trap”? 2. In which series did Mark Benton play a tramp called Sheldon? 3. Who produced the Communist Manifesto with Friedrich Engels? 4. What is a firebat? 5. Where are your fontanelles? 6. Which American protest singer is linked to the “dustbowl ballads”? 7. Who wrote the stories subsequently televised as “Poldark”? 8. In which time device would you find an escapement? 9. The port of Archangel is in which country? 10. The Titanic was launched in which city?