CABINET ministers are said to ‘aaargh’ in exasperation when they receive a communication, written in trademark spidery scrawl and green ink, which is the imprimatur of Prince Charles with a fresh bee in his crown.
To many, the 64-year-old heir to the throne and famed tree-hugger appears a quirky, if not pernickety man, who punches far above his intellectual weight and has a penchant for sounding off despite convention dictating Royals stays above the political fray.
It probably irks his mum, a paragon of monarchy, no end, but The Queen probably long ago gave up the ghost of trying to rein in her gobby son.
At least, Charles normally restricts his meddling to matters rural and aesthetic.
He’s a huge fan of organic farming and would happily re-introduce Victorian values into British agriculture as he has tried to do throughout the dukedom of Cornwall.
Famed for its Duchy brand of foodstuff, not for nothing is Chas dubbed ‘The Prince of Biscuits’, giving Huntley & Palmers a good run for their Ginger Nuts.
Another hobbyhorse ridden by the man who would be king – even if he’ll be the oldest ascendant to the throne – is his contempt for modern architecture, best illustrated by his description of a then proposed extension to the National Gallery, in London, as a ‘monstrous carbuncle’.
However, in an uncharacteristic break with traditional fuming, PoW (Prince of Wales), as the Royal Protection officers codename him, recently took up the worthy cause of chastising pension fund managers for their ‘short-termism’ and appalling returns they deliver on investors’ £2-trillion of savings.
In a pre-recorded speech to the National Association of Pension Funds recent, annual conference, Chas, a newcomer to grandparenthood, griped the industry was ‘unfit for purpose’ and, if left unchanged, ‘your grandchildren – and mine for that matter – will be consigned to an exceptionally miserable future.’
Barring a revolution, I think PoW was overegging the hyperbole, since I can’t foresee a time when little Prince George – baptised last Tuesday – will suffer many deprivations, or, for that matter, any future scions of Chez Windsor.
But he’s bang on in the nailing private pension providers who, to put it mildly, have had it off with clients’ cash for too long, made some monumentally iffy judgement calls, yet consistently rack up high management fees on the basis of heads we win, tails you lose.
With only 45 per cent of UK retirees enjoying private pensions and 56 per cent in company schemes – in both instances, returns are often meagre – the fate of senior citizens has become one of the hot political potatoes in the run-up to Britain’s 2015 General Election.
However, there is a growing public perception that pensioners are frankly too feather-bedded, sitting in big houses they no longer need, propped up with winter fuel payments, free TV licences and gratis bus travel.
Far from being the generation on whose sweat and nous was built a vibrant economy – one frittered away by greedy City slickers and political vandals (i.e. G. Brown) – in some quarters the drift is towards a view that the elderly are an expensive drain on the nation’s squeezed resources.
What’s more they’re living far, too long, the thoughtless blighters!
Hence, the government’s plan to introduce a flat-rate, single-tier state pension worth £144 a week in 2016 has only fanned flames of resentment.
So, with students forking up to £9,000-a-year for degrees, high unemployment, an untold number of workers on ‘zero-hours’ contracts and wages pretty well stagnant, the hard-pressed can easily be lulled into believing that wrinklies are alright and far from living in plight.
Underscoring this, Coalition social mobility czar, Alan Milburn, claims older people could bankrupt the welfare state, because they’ve been spared the impact of austerity.
Benefits for the elderly need reviewing in order to make life easier for the young, says the former Labour Health Minister, who wants better-off pensioners stripped of their winter fuel allowances and subsidised telly-viewing.
Meanwhile, Norman Lamb, the misnamed Care Minister, absurdly implies pensioners with savings of over £23,250 were ‘quite wealthy’ and should run down their nest-eggs before being eligible for a scheme designed to prevent people from having to sell their homes to pay for nursing in their twilight years.
Fraser Nelson, a Daily Telegraph columnist, joins the OAP bashers, tarring Britain is a gerontocracy: a country run for the benefit of the aged, because they cast four in every 10 votes and have the power to decide an election.
So the vision of a lonely OAP, fending off the cold with layers of woollies, sipping Horlicks in front of a one-bar electric fire, is a fast fading, despite 1.2M of them languishing well below the poverty line.
What the naysayers forget, though, are statistics such as: out of the UK’s £718bn budget for 2014 – which includes a provision of £12bn for overseas aid – pensions will account for £144bn (approximately 20%) to cover one in six of the population now over 65.
Meanwhile, a high proportion of these wicked wrinklies still pay tax on auxiliary income – which, coupled with state pensions, takes them above the £10K Inland Revenue threshold – while some, working full or part-time to alleviate their penury, continue to fund the Exchequer.
Others, like stay-at-home mums and carers, don’t receive full state pensions if they haven’t kept up National Insurance (NI) contributions, regardless of the role they’ve played in relieving the state of added burdens.
And let’s not overlook the most glaring stat that an overwhelming majority of pensioners were in regular, full-time employment throughout their working years, paying tax and NI on their earnings, bringing up families, saving where they could and acting as responsible citizens.
Their repayment was supposed to be an inflation-linked pension they believed was a return on their investment from monies they’d paid the state, not some charity hand-out to be kicked around as a social or political football.
So let’s hear it for the pensioners…you might be one someday, if you aren’t already.