Am I becoming Thatcher’s greatest achievement?

Not just me, you understand, but so many of the people like me – born in the 1980s, grown up in the 90s, degree educated in the new millenium and now old enough to both have a job paying better than ever before and considering my future and the people in it.

I don’t have a pension. Not because I think I’m destined to be a millionaire or don’t appreciate the cost of being 85 and in need of care. But because when I think of pensions – entrusting lots of money to people I don’t know or necessarily understand – I see Robert Maxwell. Well, thanks to TV I see David Suchet playing Maxwell.

What I see is someone I don’t trust. What I see, I guess, is the financial sector dressed up in an embezzling fat man’s suit. What I hear are the sounds I’ve picked up from newspapers and TV about pensions being cut, people losing money, their future stability broken, irrepairable because it’s now too late to do anything else.

People rely on pensions, that’s the whole point. You pay now, you feel the benefit later. Except all I’ve seen and heard suggests that if I pay now I will have to trust that I’ll feel the benefit later. I’ll have to take the risk that I won’t see that money again, or at least that the amount is subject to change with no guarantees.

So I don’t have a pension. But I haven’t got mad, I haven’t been moved to protest. I’ve accepted it. I’ve looked at what the future holds, and I’ve realised I can’t rely on a pension so I better do one of two things a) Save or b) Work as long as I can stand. Being married to an incredibly driven, positive woman helps, since we now have two brains thinking about solutions.

Our solution is a B&B/Venue/etc, which we’ll probably run until we’ve got grandkids running around. That would certainly be the ideal future for me. We’ve talked with my wife’s mom to form a team, ironically enough just as she was considering her own retirement plans. We are, in effect, accepting the State cannot support the lives we desire and so making them happen on our own.

My dad is enjoying the benefits of a pension, though the reason he’s enjoying it now is a direct result of the privatisation and mining industry closures Thatcher pursued in the 80s. The Coal Board offered voluntary redudancy packages. My dad opted to take it. And, admittedly, it is paying out now. As, no doubt, will his other work pension when he retires.

I used to rail against the decisions of Thatcher’s government because, as an example, closing the mines and breaking down that industry left thousands jobless, without prospects. How could a government abandon its obligation to look after these people? What hope did they have when the future they’d relied on had been taken away?

When I shared this with my wife she pushed back alarmingly hard. What obligation? What lack of hope? Does the government owe a job to everyone? Why couldn’t all those ex-miners find other means of work, retrain and pursue other futures? This stressed me out terrifically because it challenged something I’d believed for a long time.

Stupidly, I had never thought of my dad’s own position. Admittedly he was degree educated, not actually a miner, but he was still made jobless by the demolition of mining. I guess this fact influenced my opinons, but I failed to see the next more important fact – this didn’t leave him hopeless or without a future. He simply made a new one.

I’m immensely proud of my dad and how hard he worked, and I feel quite sheepish that I’ve never before brought together my political opinons with my own real life experiences in this. Dad lost his job, but he worked hard and is now successful. Yes, we were given support by the State, but that wouldn’t have been enough to keep us going. So why do I see State as obligated for support?

Sure, I pay taxes. There is an obligation for the government to use the money we all pay in taxes in order to maintain and (hopefully) improve the society we all live within. That’s why we have a vote, that’s why we have debates about policy. And if I pay National Insurance, sure, I expect a little money when I retire. But why have I seen an obligation to shepherd, to guide, to handhold?

I’ve always been fascinated and moved by ancient history, especially the Romans and Greeks. Their civilisations are, through developing adolescent eyes, full of ideas and idealism, freedom and expression, and a level of community which appears to construct a society which cares and supports for itself. The heart of Roman government was to improve life for all, wasn’t it? The Greeks aspired to fair society, didn’t they?

Well, Christ, did I honestly believe that or having imbibed this rose-tinted perception of these societies and filed it away until ‘What the Romans did for us’ did I just feel I didnt’ need to open that file again, that it could go on influencing my political opinion without challenge, that my own beliefs in altruistic society were backed up by Ancient History? Can I honestly have been that way until now?

Even my explanations to myself are naive and undeveloped, as my feeling that perhaps I have a ‘Monarchic’ view of how government should operate is no closer to the truth of the world. That is – I have, somehow, this idea that ‘government’ owns the country under our feet. If you own something you owe a responsibility for it, no? Just like the Monachy ‘own’ the country and have a respon… oh.

The Greeks were pioneers of civilisation but that doesn’t mean there weren’t people with nothing, just that the structure was different. Rome was spoken of as the Holy Land of civilisation but that doesn’t mean there was no poverty, or that people in poverty had a happier life. Rome bred corruption and depravity, death and profiteering. Even if, looking back now, it can all be romanticised.

So, I’ve accepted that I cannot rely on the State to provide me with a pension which will enable a life that I want to lead in retirement. I’m already pursuing an alternative career by wanting to be a writer – something I anticipate being even more capable of in 40 years. And my own father shows that the State need not support those it makes jobless as they are capable of changing their own futures.

In fact, the State has no obligation to preserve any system or future which we may have leant all of our future lives up against, because if it does so it cannot embrace new futures or enable people to create new futures. What’s more, if the State does support those it makes jobless why would anyone want a job?

So what should the State do? Enable its population to create new futures (though this will, inevitably, impact on those who rely on things not changing). Deliver the services which we pay for through taxation (or accept the voting decision we make to replace it should it fail to do this). Maintain the society we live in through managing its services (though without crippling itself through overcommitments).

No support. Should the State support? That is what I used to believe, but even now trying to write a caveat I cannot truly believe that the State ought to wholly support even those who have retired. What we are now responsible for is ensuring there are structures to support us in the future, aware that this future will always change.

I cannot deny that there will always be people unable to support themselves, either through disability or lack of family or simply through having retired with no other framework than the one which the State did, at one stage, promise to deliver. So there must be some support from the State. I’m less defined on this now. Perhaps this should be less national, more localised. But how? Who knows.

What I do know is that I now no longer expect support from the State. I’ve never drawn the dole. I do not expect to live on my State pension alone. I am withdrawing my belief that the State is obligated to support each individual, and beginning to see that we all have an obligation to support ourselves to the best of our ability. And that this ability is far more capable that we may think.

And so, with my perception of responsibilty now shifting from the State to the Individual, in my tingling thoughts that perhaps breaking up the mining industry was perhaps something that had to happen (though quite possibly could have been performed better), and in the fact that I am now in more of a mind to see the State as enabling Individuals rather than protecting them, I ask: Am I becoming Margaret Thatcher’s greatest achievement?


About Ben Catley-Richardson

Writer, reader, husband. Father!
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