first thoughts - just work and die


THERE ARE times when European Union directives are so handy for the government, you would think they had been written in Whitehall. (And who knows, you might be right.) Take the latest "anti-discrimination legislation", designed to force us to treat people looking to retire (or not) equally regardless of their age (see Eurotrash news article).

In a sane world, you would think that the imposition of a system that forces old people to carry on working might be seen as discriminatory. After all, it's the strains and stresses of working for capitalism that are at the root of so much ill health and early death. What's fine, or tolerable, when you are younger can kill when you grow old.

But we do not live in a sane world. Our government interprets anti-discrimination as ending the compulsory age of retirement unless the employer (not the worker) can justify it. All are equal, for all shall now work until they die - if they are deemed exploitable.

Two years ago a Labour minister suggested a retirement age of 70, returning to the original pensionable age at the beginning of the 20th century. Just wait: the government now has the legislative framework to try and justify it.

Meanwhile, new legislation already enacted means that from next year everyone, equally, whatever their age, can use savings to create "individualised" (such a lovely word) pension plans. This includes being able to buy second homes as part of the pension plan — effectively, for higher rate taxpayers, a 40% government subsidy for a cottage in the country, or in someone else's country.

Already over half of all government tax relief on pension contributions goes to 10% of the population. Obviously, that's not enough for the Blair gang. But then, we all have an equal opportunity to buy a second home. Handy for some, even if millions of people cannot afford to buy their first one: a survey last month for the Halifax revealed that in 92% of British urban postal districts a first-buyer couple each earning the average wage cannot get a mortgage on the average house.

But why stop at two homes? Blunkett has three, at least. Despite having resigned ignominiously as Home Secretary, caught fiddling expenses and handing out favours, he is still living in the £3 million "grace and favour" house that goes with the job. No rent, and no accounting for a taxable benefit worth £30,000 more than he now earns. Very handy.