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Monday, September 27, 2004
The elephant in the room is responsibility

Discussing pensions on the BBC just now, an interviewer sat and nodded as two women over sixty explained the financial problems which had encouraged them to go down to Brighton to protest the Labour Party Conference. What seemed so empty about the interview was the utter acceptance of retired people as clients of the government. One pensioner explained that as a former teacher she received money from that career on top of the normal state pension but still had trouble making ends meet in her life. At no point was she asked the rather pertinent question of why on earth she didn't arrange better provision for herself when she was in work. Why? Perhaps this woman had a good answer that would have satisfied even the most discerning viewer; perhaps not. But there is something wrong in the fact that it never arose in the first place.

Instead, as always, the patronising and quite false treatment of pensioners as utterly dependent on government, people's own choices and responsibility entirely divorced from the circumstances in which they live when they retire, framed the whole discussion. This may work to the benefit of campaigners for a higher state pension, but it is a disservice to the viewer and far from conducive to any real solutions to such problems.

Most people reading this site will know that it is now not quite the done thing to mention that the 'nuclear' family does best for children, or that sexually transmitted diseases are the result of behaviour rather than random chance, which is why these points are never mentioned in BBC discussions of issues like alternative lifestyles and AIDS. So personal responsibility is certainly seen as politically suspect in some areas. Are we seeing a new strain of political correctness emerging, that makes it somehow impolite even to ask why the taxpayer has an absolute moral duty to pick up the pieces for those who had the chance to save for their retirement, but didn't?

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