A hue and cry for pensioners

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Hayes in the House with MP John Hayes

Hue and Cry’, the first of the great Ealing films made in the 1940s and 1950s, depicts London as it was not long after the end of the Second World War, with row upon row of terraced houses decimated by bombing.

The film focuses on the lives of a group of older children – at the age between childhood and adulthood now known as teenage years.

Watching it recently reminded me of the world in which many of today’s pensioners grew up – a time of austerity, rationing and fuel shortages.

We should be proud of the enormous contribution that generation has made to our country. Most left school and entered work at the age of 14 (the school leaving age being raised to 15 by the 1944 Education Act) and then stayed in employment for over half a century.

Many undertook national service or fought in Korea, which – though sometimes described as ‘the forgotten war’ – took the lives of over 1,000 British servicemen and left 2,000 seriously injured.

It is because of the efforts and sacrifices of that generation, and those before them who fought Nazi Germany, that we now live safely in more comfortable times.

Great cultures throughout world history have venerated ‘elders’, recognising the value of wisdom that comes with age and experience. Perhaps our modern society, eagerly preoccupied with a culture of youth and novelty, has lost sight of this.

Rediscovering reverence for older people brings countless advantages – from knowledge and expertise passed on in the workplace, to the vital contribution that pensioners make to civil society by volunteering and leading community activities; and through the essential role that grandparents play in nurturing family life.

I sometimes hear miserly, spiteful complaints about universal benefits provided to pensioners, but it must be right to guarantee and strengthen support for those who have given so much.

Providing free TV licenses, bus passes and prescriptions is the mark of a civilised society which respects its elders.

Most important of all, we must protect the basic state pension by ensuring that it will always rise in line with inflation, earnings, or 2.5 per cent – whichever is highest.

A single-tier state pension, replacing the previously complex system, should, for the first time, justly recognise the contribution of women who for years spent time at home raising a family; and no one should have to sell their home in their lifetime to pay for residential care.

An old proverb reminds us that “Wisdom is with the aged, and understanding in length of days” and as GK Chesterton concluded, one of the joys of advancing years is “to find out that the world has not repeated proverbs because they are proverbial, but because they are practical”.

The Rt Hon John Hayes MP