The myth of the ‘poor pensioner’ helps shield the City

The myth of the ‘poor pensioner’ helps shield the City

Pensioners are a useful defence in the City’s fight to preserve its privileges. Unwittingly they are wheeled out as human shields by the finance industry, and increasingly major corporations, to serve and protect probably the most powerful interests in the UK.

The over-65s – or in many cases the over-55s, given the extent of early retirement – function as a high wall against accusations of tax avoidance, financial plundering and executive enrichment, because the world’s pension funds are benefiting.

So it was last week, when the former Conservative minister Esther McVey told the UK’s biggest supermarkets to hand back about £1.9bn in business rates relief given as a financial cushion in the pandemic.

The controversy centres on the dividend payments to shareholders made by Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Asda and Morrisons, which McVey said should only have been paid once the companies were free of subsidy.

Sainsbury’s disclosed business rates relief worth £230m in the first half of its financial year, while paying £231m in dividends, and in October, Tesco announced a £315m dividend despite receiving £585m in relief.

There is no way executives can justify sky-high personal rewards unless they can declare their businesses fit and able to pay dividends. If much of the money has come in taxpayer subsidy, no matter.

One analyst, Clive Black at stockbroker Shore Capital, spoke for the City when he told the Times it was “absolutely right” for Sainsbury’s to look after “its retail and pension fund shareholders”.…

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