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State Pension Blog: I let Spiderman swipe my cash!

In the third part of Greg Kingston's daily blog, a trip to the cinema gets him thinking about the tough choices faced by those trying to survive on the state pension.

 

by Greg Kingston on Jul 04, 2012 at 09:51

State Pension Blog: I let Spiderman swipe my cash!

Greg Kingston (pictured), along with 100 of his colleagues at pension provider Suffolk Life, has accepted a challenge from his employer to live off £70 a week. That's how much charity AgeUK says a typical pensioner has left after bills, council tax etc. Here's yesterday's blog in case you missed it.

It’s 11pm and I’m settling down to write my latest diary entry before I go to bed. The truth is I feel a little guilty.

I can be quite inward-looking at times, and tonight, after a little banter with some of my friends on Facebook about my the day's exploits, I’ve only now realised the implications that my spending decisions today might have.

Splashing out on Spiderman

Until tonight I’d had a good few days; I hadn’t really spent anything other than my shop for food, toiletries and cleaning products. But tonight I went to see the new Spiderman film – £5.13 for a ticket, affordable and planned for.

However, I also decided to splash out and spend £7.95 on a large popcorn and drink to enjoy during the film. Two and a half hours later I emerged from the cinema having enjoyed a film that just about met my expectations, but with only £10.22 remaining to last until Saturday morning.

Has Spiderman got a pension? He’s certainly taken mine this week!

My colleague Rob leaves his job on Friday to take a year’s sabbatical and go travelling around the world with his wife. I’ve promised to go out with him for a few drinks on Friday night to see him on his way, but now my budget is more limited and may not stretch.

Tight budgets, tough decisions

That really got me thinking – what if I really were retired on this low, fixed income, and I made the same decisions I made today? Rob is a little younger than me, but what if Friday were his retirement do? Could my decision to have popcorn and a drink at the cinema mean that I couldn’t say goodbye to one of my friends?

These aren’t decisions that I want to be forced to make. So what would I do if it were real? Would I make an excuse for my lack of money, and perhaps say that something had come up? Or would I turn up and drink tap water all night, with the taste of overpriced popcorn long departed? I don’t know.

Maybe I'm being dramatic, but if I were living like this, week to week with no savings, I’d need to make exactly these decisions. The thought makes me quite miserable, and it's compounded by my partner’s offer to lend me £10. If I accepted and this project lasted more than a week that would just mean I’d start next week with £10 less.

No wonder pensioners sometimes feel pressure to turn to pay-day loans for an instant fix, and less wonder still that they find themselves even more trapped as a result.

This is far from the retirement I want. I apologise for what some will undoubtedly read as manufactured gloominess, but even with the end in sight on Saturday, I realise that, despite a conscious effort to go out and enjoy myself, all I’m left with at the end of the night is worry and regret.

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29 comments so far. Why not have your say?

Pilgrim

Jul 04, 2012 at 11:34

Greg,

State Pension Blog or Spiderman? While your personal experience is interesting, it is just that. The subject of the state pension and how it operates is one that concerns many people across the age spectrum. This is shown by the vigorous exchanges to yesterday's Blog much of which strayed far away from your own personal angst.. The value of the blog lies largely in the interchange of ideas that arise from it.

It is a good idea for Lolly to operate a State Pension Blog, but not good to start a new blog comment stream every day.

Why don't you consolidate the Blogs into a single Blog, with the newest submissions at the top? This would considerably enhance the value of the resource.

Please see what you can do.

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Greg Kingston

Jul 04, 2012 at 11:57

Pilgrim,

That's a good point - I'm not sure if Citywire are able to do that but I'm sure they'll look into it.

One benefit of splitting the comments up though is that every day's experience covers something new - not just the state pension itself but the experiences of living off it. Today's update was all about me finding out about how (poor) decisions can affect you in ways that might not originally have been considered.

Maybe a round-up blog at the end - that would concentrate a lot of comments I think.

Thank you for taking the effort to keep reading and commenting.

Greg

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Inge Jones

Jul 04, 2012 at 12:24

Expectations vary anyhow. Although my financial situation has varied wildly during my lifetime, having started adult life on benefits (single person, completely lowest benefit rate) I never really thought of cinema, or going out to eat or attending a party in a pub as something one did on anything but very very special occasions. So maybe pensioners who are only getting basic state pension will be someone like me - because anyone who had a successful career from the beginning and has come to expect those treats regularly will almost certainly be on a higher income even in retirement. My income is currently on one of its downturns, and at 60 I am looking forward to my basic state pension as it will give me more to live on than I am currently getting - *and* a winter fuel allowance! Will be nice not to be able to turn the heating on for longer in the winter. And it won't be means tested, so I don't have to do without like I do at the moment, due to the fact I did take care to save a bit while I was getting a better income. Personally I think it's the working age benefits that want looking at - £60 a week jobseekers? It's ridiculous.

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Andrew McDonald

Jul 04, 2012 at 13:09

State pensions are not supposed to pay for cinemas and drinks but to provide the basic level of support. Luxuries should be paid for with savings.

Same with the benefits system. Rather than capping housing benefit at £25k, the total amount of benefit anyone should be able to claim should be no more than the minimum wage. I.e. £12k. Thereby getting people back to work.

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Anonymous 1 needed this 'off the record'

Jul 04, 2012 at 13:26

You can have your cake and eat it (well.. popcorn..). With a little extra planning you could have made your own from a pack that costs 50pence, and brought a drink along too.

I know that's not the point your trying to make; but despite income levels people will always have to make choices based on affordabilities, be it between a new car vs a holiday, or beween several pints out vs some tinnies at home - basic budgeting, planning and sensible decision making will go along way - even on £70 a week.

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Greg Kingston

Jul 04, 2012 at 13:36

Aside from the point I know, but it is Cineworld policy to refuse entry to anyone with food or drinks bought outside the premises.

www.cineworld.co.uk/faq. I've tweeted them a link to this blog entry but I don't expect that they'll be in contact.

But then again who knows? Maybe someone living on the State Pension alone might have to bend a few rules and laws in order to get by? I won't be doing that though - I doubt that participation in this challenge would be sufficient grounds to ensure I wasn't charged!

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Hotrod

Jul 04, 2012 at 14:21

@Greg

Oh dear, no wonder you are feeling miserable. Big mistake spending £13.08 at the Cinema.

What you should have done was forward plan. i.e. made a list of all the probable outgoings for the week. This list will most likely include costs which you cannot afford. Therefore you have to go through the list again, crossing out all those items which are not essential. This way you end up with a "forecast" of expenditure which has a reasonable chance of being met by your budget.

I would have put the fairwell night out at the pub in my list of priorities and would have economised on other things so that I could have had a good time.

I can't remember when I last went to a Cinema. Come to that, I can't remember when I sat through a whole film. After about half hour, my attention begins to wander and I start thinking of other things to do.

As regards entertainment and music, I have even stopped buying CDs I get nearly all my fresh stuff from the internet. YouTube is an absolute boon, I spend hours listening to Polka Bands, from the Swiss Alps, Austrian Tyrol, and the beautiful Slovenian countryside. This experience takes me down other avenues of interest which include music played on Tyros Keyboards, and Fairground And Cinema Organs. Its been a fantastic educational journey, learning about life I hardly knew existed, and it hasn't cost be a bean.

As regards economising in the house. I have invested in an Halogen Oven; the savings on electricity have been quite significant and I find it quick and easy to use.

Never mind we all make mistakes; my mistake this week was going to that Cafe' frequented by bikers and ramblers. Talk about "Hells Angels" more like "Hells Kitchen" as far as I was concerned.

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Michael Hellman

Jul 04, 2012 at 14:32

OMG I really want to rant, ( could just be nicotine withdrawal). Greg, if you kept this up for more than one week, you would realise how smart you have to be to live within a set budget. This isnt limited to retired people. I cant believe anyone would pay £8 for popcorn and a drink and this suggests you are not taking this seriously. But then it is £8 for a packet of 20.

Will pensioners be better off when the new flat rate comes in? How does the pension industry educate the population not to be in debt when you retire? I look at my grandparents who lived very well albeit on small amounts, this wasnt unique but more the norm.

Everyone has choices it just is not possible to have everything!

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Alan Morrice

Jul 04, 2012 at 16:02

Greg

One of the pleasures of growing old and retiring is one no longer wishes to go to cinemas to watch 'Spiderman' while eating grossly overpriced popcorn. Being of the older generation most of us wouldn't eat their overpriced popcorn rubbish even if they gave it to us for nothing. (When did cinemas start selling this American garbage anyway).

In general pensioners don't buy popcorn or buy coffee from Starbucks. Young persons like yourself tend to require constant stimulation and peer recognition (both expensive) to make your lives meaningful. Retired people eg use their bus passes to visit libraries to borrow books for free then call in to see friends for (in effect) a free cup of tea. You young people go to restaurants and buy take-aways. Us old gits just make delicious meals at home from inexpensive ingredients. You want to go to pubs and clubs. We are just as happy (or happier) getting sozzled at home on supermarket own-label gin!

Whether one buys a Beemer as opposed to an Audi is no doubt of considerable interest to young men to you. You want to look like cool dudes - nothing wrong with that!.

At my age one realises that we would just look like a silly old git who's wasted his cash on an overly-expensive flash car. Personally I look on the ownership of an expensive prestige vehicle as a liability. One would be constantly concerned about everything from speeding and parking fines to the risk of theft or vandalism

This behavioral change and different way of looking at the world around us is one of the blessings of age. We no longer have the desire to impress (mainly strangers) with items of conspicuous consumption.

For the purposes of your blog you are trying to live on a (minimal) state pension income while still having all of the spending desires of a young

person.

Bst of luck to you!

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Anonymous 2 needed this 'off the record'

Jul 04, 2012 at 16:37

Greg, what a joker you are! Or some might say a total prat. You spend £13 on a cinema visit and wonder how you are going to last the rest of the week on £10.22, including a night's boozing. I hope your employers are taking note of your stupid behaviour and ensuring that you do not attain a position of responsibility in suffolk Life.

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Chris F Jones

Jul 04, 2012 at 16:37

Greg:

Regular eating of popcorn and coke could well qualify you for an enhanced annuity, so one tactic may be to satiate yourself with them while you can afford it before retirement, buy the enhanced annuity and then live off lentils and carrot juice (or similar) for a very long retirement...

Good luck with the rest of the week.

Chris

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Alan Morrice

Jul 04, 2012 at 16:43

So you've agreed to go out with your mate John 'for a few drinks' on Friday night.

You'll just have to stick to a couple of halves of mild (like old boys do). The occasion is ostensibly to wish your mate on his way. Looks like the true purpose is to hold the traditional good old after-work Friday night p***-up. Boo-Hoo for you. You'll just have to live like a pensioner.

My serious point is pensioners would not be planning such a traditional weekend debauch in the first place. It's not that we've got more sense - it's because a night on the ale means no sleep because of the ensuing frequent trips to the bathroom.

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Sally Gardner

Jul 04, 2012 at 16:44

Agree with hotrod that you need to forward plan and prioritise your spend. An extra social occasion is more fun than a bag of popcorn and a drink, so put your money where the most fun is. And put a little aside so that when something unexpected comes up, you have that small cushion. Whatever you earn, you waste money if you buy expensive popcorn and drinks at cinemas. (Cinemas are for watching, not eating. Pocket a bag of sweets from the supermarket if you must. No-one will notice.)

If you earn a comfortable sum you waste money without noticing, so perhaps this is the first opportunity you have head to learn how much you waste in your normal life. You have a daily coffee at Starbucks? £2? Multiply it by 5x a week and 52 weeks a year and see how much that coffee costs you. Don't know about you, but I'd rather have my coffee at home or work and spend that amount on something more exciting. Read Martin's Money Expert for many small ways to save money, and many small savings = big saving. Big savings = holidays, pensions, freedom, fun.

There was a time when I was very skint and I learned to buy what gave me best value, and I haven't lost that habit. My daughter at university would see friends buying food at the canteen daily and complaining about their poverty, while she was eating a home-made sandwich and using her money for other things.

Pensioners managing on the state pension have greater worries than curtailing their social lives and limiting their popcorn.

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Greg Kingston

Jul 04, 2012 at 17:32

Thanks for the considered comment Sally - you make some really good points there.

It is always going to be hard to completely adjust behaviour in one, artificial week like this, but what's interesting for me are the differences in decision making. Yesterday was a perfect example of that.

One thing that has struck me in many comments is the assumption that either because I work for a pension provider or perhaps because I'm merely of working age, I must automatically be incredibly profligate.

That's something I actually find rather amusing, but I accept that as someone from a provider of financial services (SIPPs) on here, blogging for the first time, I'm a pretty easy target against which to draw stereotypical assumptions. If I can persuade Citywire to devote more space at the end of this challenge, it might be interesting to compare where the proportion of my money was spent this week compared with a normal week. For example, would do I spend 40% on food in retirement compared to 20% when on a salary? What's the difference in socialising, or saving?

Whether that it is possible or not to publish I don't know. But it is something I'll be doing for myself out of curiousity. After all, as I explained on day one, I fully expect my behaviour to have changed after this challenge. Hopefully for the better!

Greg

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susannah via mobile

Jul 04, 2012 at 18:28

Did your partner offer you a free pen with her loan offer?

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Ms J

Jul 04, 2012 at 18:38

Greg,

I must say, I find your blogs on this subject a great reality check for majority of people with 20 or more years to go before they hit retiring age. It scared me to know that there are so many people out there with well paying jobs that are not planning for their future.

My parents are retired, receive benefits and smarter than your average Joe in that they planned well for their future off very low paying jobs.

They, like you enjoy the cinema and go at least twice a month. Their cinema has pensioner specials, half the usual pensioners price on a certain day, for certain movies. Hence this is clearly something that can be enjoyed by all, even on a pension.

I don't feel it's fair for judgements to be made by others on the luxury's some choose to spend their pennies on. Some cannot go a day without buying the paper, some without having cigarettes, some without alcohol and some without coffee. However there are people out there living off minimal pensions that don't need to budget for the above and therefore have other things they'd rather spend money on, eg cinema's and popcorn.

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James B. Johnson

Jul 04, 2012 at 20:49

Let's stop pratting about with Spiderman and popcorn.

What State Pensioners need is more money and lots of it.

£6 x 40 hours = £240 per week minimum.

"We can't afford it!" Whinge, whinge, bleat , bleat.

I say that they have already earned it.

What we can't afford are bankers, FTSE 100 CEO's, hundreds of company directors, pop stars, footballers, celebrities and other socially useless plonkers earning multi-millions per year.

If £450k per annum is good enough for the Director General of the BBC, it's good enough for anybody.

"But they will all leave the country" Whinge, whinge , bleat, bleat.

No they won't. This is where they make the all the dosh and if they do "Good bye and don't come back!".

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J Thomas

Jul 04, 2012 at 21:21

I'm quite well off now, yet I can still remember the days when I had holes in my shoes and had to go about for weeks with soaking wet feet as I could not afford a new pair. It's all a question of priorities and not wasting money on frivioulities.

As for Cineworld popcorn, it costs about 20 pence to make up and is sold on for a fiver. Indeed I'm amazed no one has made a citizens arrest on a Cineworld Director for racketering and extortion.

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Alan Morrice

Jul 05, 2012 at 00:18

James B.

No one will disagree that we need more money. I never in my whole life met anyone who didn't think that he/she needed/wanted/deserved more money

But you're quite right about us pensioners. All state pensioners should receive £240 'minimum'. I like the 'minumum' bit. In fact I would like to see it being £480 a week.

I shall write to my MP. That should get results.

Also, all pensioners should be eligable for a two-week foreign holiday every year, cost, of course, not to exceed £1200 per head (one has to be reasonable).

If we don't get our way, and quick, we should write to our local papers and threaten to meet outside the town hall waving our walking sticks and/or zimmer frames.

That'll show them who's boss!

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Alan Morrice

Jul 05, 2012 at 00:23

James,

We could even crack up the pressure by refusing to attend day centres and throwing away our free bus passes.

A couple of weeks of that and a demoralised Government will come crawling to us, begging to be allowed to make amends.

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Poor pensioner

Jul 05, 2012 at 09:35

Inge is right you really were on that income it wouldn't enter your head to go to the cinema and if you wanted popcorn you would pop your own, which could provide fun for visiting grandchildren at little cost. You are still thinking like a person on a high income and you need to develop a pensioner mindset to live on the basic pension. Reading these comments has made me realise how much those who live where there are buses benefit from the free travel compared to pensioners stuck out in the sticks. Howevser, if it costs a big chunk of your pension just to get to the shops and back, it helps to keep your spending down to essentials!

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Alan Morrice

Jul 05, 2012 at 10:16

In all of this knock-about stuff we've not heard heard about a thing pensioners really can't afford to do.

That is smoke.

The cost of fags is now so high that the cost of a daily pack of twenty will a absord almost half of the basic weekly pension.

Any pensioner pleading poverty while still continuing to smoke can't expect much sympathy.

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golfalot

Jul 05, 2012 at 11:59

Hello Greg,

This blog is interesting but I am sure your inevitable conclusions will be that £70 a week is not enough to live on - particularly if you want to watch new release films and purchase confectionery items with a 600% mark up!

For £1 of your £70 you could have watched loads of very recent movies at home on DVD from Lovefilm (for a week ) and eaten your fill of microwave popcorn.

Or you could have had a day out for free by jumping on a bus (for free), going for a swim (for free), getting back on the bus (for free), going to a local authority museum / park / event (for free) etc. etc.

Other contributors have pointed out the AgeUK are not unbiased and would like to see pensioners income increased. Therefore why would you go to them to ask their opinion on what a pensioner has left to spend?

It would be interesting to know what AgeUK's top brass are earning in salary and pension benefits and how many employees are on 50k plus p.a. before we take their opinions on pensioner poverty as gospel. Please do publish this - if they will reveal it to you.

The number of living pensioners who went through WW2 is decreasing dramatically and therefore the argument that.... 'I fought against The Hun for you, Sonny Boy' (and are consequently deserving of a good pension), holds less and less weight.

The current crop of pensioners have had it very good for the majority of their lives and into old age as well. A lot of the improvements in their living standards throughout their lives has been built on the back of borrowed money, which the unborn will have to repay.

the money they claim to have paid in to the system is diddly squat in terms of what they are going to have back.

Therefore we should perhaps be looking at the current generation of over 65's with a little less respect and a little more disdain for what has happened in their time. Maybe they should be the ones giving up their seats on the bus for us (I joke of course).

Finally Greg, it is my opinion that the cinema trip (story) is a little sensationalist and designed to create controversy. You could just have well written that you were feeling horny in your old age and so visited your local sex shop where you spent some of your pension on DVDs and toys. '' Oh, woe is me! I have just blown £20 and now have very little to live on for the rest of the week ''........Well in that case don't visit the sex shop, bookies, cinemas, or other venues where spending is entirely luxurious and discretionary.

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Greg Kingston

Jul 05, 2012 at 12:23

Thanks for the long comment golfalot. By the way, the latest blog is now up at http://www.citywire.co.uk/money/state-pension-blog-disaster-strikes/a602212

Any questions for Age UK really should be directed towards Age UK - they provided guidance on the amount for the week at the request of my employer and nothing more.

It seems there are a lot of cynics out there. I agreed to this challenge long before I was able to attract the interest and support of Citywire to help publicise it. My goal is the challange itself, and not the publication of it - that said, I'm extremely grateful for Citywire to give me such a great platform to help spread awareness.

The cinema trip is certainly not designed for sensationalism - my tickets were booked (and paid for!) in advance of this week. It was my choice to bring the cost of them into this week as I thought that in doing so it would be more accurate and representative.

You are of course entitled to your opinion and to share it. I'm sorry that the truth is a little less exotic than your imagination! You therefore might find today's update interesting, particularly the closing paragraphs... The findgings I've expressed there might well be the lasting impression left on me after this challenge...

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James B. Johnson

Jul 06, 2012 at 14:09

Heavy sarcasm from Alan Morrice doesn't alter the facts.

In fact he makes my point.

There is nothing pensioners can do about their lot.

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Alan Morrice

Jul 06, 2012 at 15:49

James,

Yes there is.

If we smoke we can stop.

We have the luxury of time. We can shop around to minimise our outgoings.

Whether or not one feels free from financial worries has more to do with how much one spends rather than how much one earns.

If we are disqualified from means tested benefits because of savings above £25000 we can legitimately reduce these savings, eg fill our house with new comfortable furniture that will 'see us out'. We can always give a child or grandchild a lump sum to, say, buy a car or help towards a deposit for a house. We might even come to an unstated understanding with them that said grateful child/grandchild could provide lifts for us when we needed them or even paid for the occasional holiday for us.

There are lots of ways to improve our lot by self-help.

Giving in to fellings of hopelessness and feeling sorry for ourselves does not help anyone of any age.

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James B. Johnson

Jul 07, 2012 at 00:27

Alan

Instead of silent stoicism and 'making do' what about agitating for a better deal?.

A 19th century American journalist said, "Power will concede nothing without pressure".

I completely believe that and I intend, in my modest way, to do what I can.

Luckily there are millions who think that social agitation and political pressure is the only way to get social justice, however you define it, and history proves them correct. From the Peasants Revolt to the Tolpuuddle martyrs to Dickens to Lord Grey and the Great Reform Act to the suffragettes to the Jarrow Marchers to the CND to the Poll Tax protesters. Perhaps they were not all totally successful but the sum total of their efforts has made us a more civilised and compassionate Nation

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Alan Morrice

Jul 07, 2012 at 09:36

James,

One can only protes effectivelyt from a position of power. If the tanker drivers threaten a strike the Goverment is in a panic. If the workers in a contract cleaning company do so, those with floors to be mopped just shrug their shoulders and ring up the next name in the Yellow Pages. If the 'Equal Access and Cultural Diversity' Dept of the local council takes to the barriers no one cares (or even notices).

Governments have, whether you like to admit it or not, been more generous to pensioners in the last 25 years or so than to any other section of society. Not because they like us but because we have been growing in number and we vote, mainly in our own interest. (When one hears anyone sayng they vote in a certain way for the good of 'society' or 'the country' it usually doesn't take long to find that such 'good' coincides with their own best interest).

There is a younger generation coming up who will have to pay ever-increasing taxes to pay for our pensions. I think we'll find in future attitudes towards 'poor old pensioners' will harden.

As for the causes you mention:

Most of them were were going with the flow of history. They were concerned with justice and liberty, not merely with money.

The Jarrow Marchers, unfortunates who lived in a one-industry (shipbuilding) town, got nothing out of it but costless sympathy and a place in trade-union mythology.

It must have been dispiriting. The further south they marched the more they started moving into regions which were booming with all the new industries of the 30's (large-scale car production, manufacturing of radios, new tyre factories, house-building - look at all the double-fronted 1930's bungalows one finds throughout the southern half of Britain).

As for the 'Poll Tax Protestors': If any of them had actually paid some tax

during their lives there may have been more in the kitty for you.

The 'peasants' who revolted in the 14th century were what nowadays would be classed as middle class farmers, They weren't looking for other people's money - they were objecting to paying taxes! Not exactly your standpoint!

Your 'crusade' seems to be 'more taxpayers money if you please, for Mr James B Johnson and those like me - we deserve it'.

Best of luck to you,

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Hotrod

Jul 07, 2012 at 11:10

I'm with Alan Morrice, we should count are blessings. Too much protesting would draw attention from other "hard done by" groups who may be able to persuade the Govt. that they have a stronger case.

It is worth remembering that we had a 5% increase this year plus our personal+age allowance was raised to £10,500 If inflation has now dropped to 3% (official figures) most of us should be able to manage slightly better.

Oh and another thing, those who have been fortunate enough to have passed the 80 milestone will have been greeted with a golden hello. An extra 25p per week! no less. Save that up for six months and you will have nearly enough for a bucket of popcorn.

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