Group of European Pensioners from Savings Banks and Financial Institutions


Index of documents > Euromeetings Magazine > Euromeetings Number 6

POLITICIANS and analysts across European democracies are increasingly examining the title of this article. They do so from the point of the effect the elderly voters have on the outcome of political elections. I believe the question goes much wider than that.


If I write this from a mainly U.K. perspective I have reason to believe it is central to the trends that are common to many European countries. The U.K. has recently conducted a General Election in which Tony Blair's New Labour Party was returned to government with a handsome majority. However, all political parties in the U.K. are concerned with what this election demonstrated. Examination on the trends displayed presents a major opportunity for the elderly to advance their views.


There was a record fall in turnout to the lowest level since the start of the mass franchise in 1918. Turnout has fallen in most other Western democracies and there is much talk of 'Politicians reconnecting with the electorate'. This is 'Politic-speak' for talking about what the electorate wish to talk about rather than what politicians want to talk about. It is recorded that fewer than two in five 18 to 24-year-olds bothered to vote, half the rate of those aged over 65. Many young people believed that the U.K. political parties are too close to big business to tackle such questions as the environment or globalisation.


All the major political parties campaigned for the vote of the elderly. This is hardly surprising given that 16 million people in the U.K are over 50, some 33 per cent of the electorate. Additionally they are four times more likely to vote than the younger people.


In seeking the' Grey' vote, politicians promised a variety of pensioner benefits including modest increases in State Pensions.


They seem to assume that pensioners will respond to the likes of free TV licences for the over 75's and Winter Fuel Allowances. The real evidence is, that however welcome these are they are no substitute for payments that produce dignity and a decent standard of living. Means testing of benefits rather than universality leads to form filling, lack of take up and is regarded as demeaning.


The real problem is that State Retirement Pensions need to be linked to average earnings, which rise faster than the Retail Price Income. The Retail Price Income also includes items that are not relevant to older people, who are largely concerned with food and fuel prices.


The latest EU figures give a comparison of state pensions as a percentage of national income (GDP) in the following countries: France 10.6%, Italy 13.3%, Germany 11.1% and the U.K. 4.5%. One of the main reasons for this is linked to the fact that UK employers pay far less National Insurance than their EU counterparts.


UK politicians have failed to grasp that it not just about money.


Health provision, public transport, street safety and long-term care are all vitally important to many old people. It is criminal, for instance, that many pensioners have to sell their homes to pay long term healthcare costs.


If apathy in national and local elections prevails this provides a wonderful opportunity for older people to influence the outcome of such elections. We need to organise and to be demanding in our desires.


Democracy for the elderly is not just about elections. We need statutory provision for the elderly to be members of the many public bodies that impact on our lives.


The Trade Union Movement needs to be reminded that where they have pensioner members they have a duty to service those members. Too many unions are totally preoccupied with the needs of those in employment to the detriment of those in retirement.


For the pensioner voice to be heard it is necessary to combine. This should not just be at national level. A European voice is essential and our organisation, as it expands, can assist in getting our views to European pressure points. Our Alicante Declaration, if acknowledged, would restore much dignity to the elderly of all our countries.


Politicians need us because of our influence and we have been too respectful.


We need to say clearly what we want from them and what we will do if we don't get it. In the U.K., pensioners were promised a full share in the countries increased prosperity and this has not been delivered.


If we stop being humble we will gain respect. We will be recognised and no longer patronised.



Barry Ingham (Liverpool)

President of TSB Bank Retired Staff Association Manchester Region