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The case for experience
reproduced with thanks to Greater London Pensioners' Association and Tony Benn)

Experience is the greatest and best teacher of all and one advantage that older people have over the young is that they have had a much longer experience of life, and a bit of time to think about it.

I am very proud to have been asked to become a patron of the Greater London Pensioners' Association, but must admit that the word pensioner offends me for it is as if when we have had a lot of experience the only way in which we can be described is by reference to our age and the fact that we no longer have a full-time paid job.

Older people who have been trade unionists are experienced trade unionists, and older women who have raised a family are experienced mothers and may be grandmothers - and even great grandmothers as well - with a lot to offer the young.

Older Doctors are experienced medical men and so on and we ought to give a lot more thought to what experienced people can do to contribute to society.

Old people who are always talking about the past are boring, those who are always complaining about the present can be intolerable, and older people who want to keep control and run things are a bloody menace.

The best role for the old is to encourage the young and most of us remember with affection those teachers and others, who, when we were young took an interest in us and gave us the confidence to carry on when we may have felt discouraged.

The campaigns on which older people should now be concentrating should, in my opinion, be focused on helping others in the community who feel ignored and.. isolated and there are many ways in which that can be done.

For example students facing terrible top up fees which will plunge them in debt would really appreciate any support that we can give them, and workers facing redundancy when the public services are privatised would also welcome those of us who can find the time to give them a hand.

As we are the generation which remembers the war we must, like ex-servicemen's CND want to be active for peace and that also extends our influence and wins support for our own cause.

Obviously the fear of poverty in old age is a huge problem for many people and the pensioners are necessarily campaigning for a change of policy, but the support that we need for that should be founded on the principle of the solidarity of the generations, and if we have helped others they will be more ready to help us.

In short, older people are a valuable resource for the nation and we must never accept that because we have a bus pass we can be patted on the heard and told to keep quiet.
That is my interest in the pensioners movement and why I am proud to be closely associated with the London members, since I was born here, lived in London during the Blitz, and worked here in Parliament for over fifty years.

I was in the cabinet when Barbara Castle linked pensions with earnings.

If we could do it then, we can do it now - and so we must.

Tony Benn
Patron, Greater London Pensioners' Association

(reproduced with thanks to Greater London Pensioners' Association and Tony Benn)