But what’s rarely discussed is the state’s responsibility to care for the old and weak – and actually for all its citizens regardless of ability to contribute economically
But we all have to grow old some time. I’m in my late sixties and never bothered with a private pension, but have a small state pension. When I was young I never thought about this. How do we bring the need for care and pensions into the domain of the younger artist or activist?
Vienne Chan: To be honest, it’s only something I thought of recently while looking at financial markets and the massive influence pension funds have. Yet it doesn’t add up to what their mission is or should be. Their mission at a superficial level is to make enough money to provide for our wellbeing in old age, but the key part is wellbeing and the means they employ don’t add up to it. The pandemic helps to bring senior care and care (in general) into the light, especially in the beginning when there was a lot of talk about how old people can just die. The counter-response demonstrates that we do care. We also care about underpaid care workers. There are actually a lot of art projects about care now.
That’s not a bad thing, but more recently, there’s been more talk about self-care as a political act. Self-care should be more than just taking an evening off and drinking some tea, but also thinking about our own future. For example, in the case of the refugee crisis, a lot of the right wing capitalised on the fear of lack of money for our own wellbeing so therefore “we can’t take in any more refugees”. This speaks to a lot of people because they fear for their retirement and don’t think they can afford a reasonable standard of living. This fear is perfectly legitimate too. So maybe we can think of how these things all connect together in the bigger picture.
I think young artists and activists often tend to be more concerned about others than themselves
Perhaps it’s also because artists and activists aren’t usually concerned with ‘accumulating wealth’ and this is what a pension system purports to help people do. It’s hard for me to speak on behalf of other artists and activists, but I think a lot of us might not have enough regular work to even think about paying into a pension. For those who pay into the system, maybe it seems to make basic logical sense – put away money for a rainy day and then some experts in finance will make sure there will be enough when we can’t work anymore. But the current pensions system is not working, otherwise we would not see countries raising retirement age across the board. The dominant narrative is that we need to work harder and to save more. Until we reach retirement, we probably don’t realise that it’s still not enough to live on. By then it’s probably a little too late. Maybe then we will just regret our life-choices. Or maybe we simply accept that it comes part and parcel with being an artist – that personal sacrifices have to be made. Yes, there is a state pension now, but unless something changes, it is unlikely there will be a state pension in 20 years. Countries around the world are pushing towards private pension funds as the solution and asking everyone to save. But how can we save when most of us don’t even have steady jobs and are already living hand to mouth? This isn’t just about artists – the general labour market is becoming increasingly fractured and precarious. As long as we rely on a private, profit-driven pensions system that is simply failing its mission, there will not be enough money for senior care. Carework will always be driven by profit, denying careworkers the time and resources to do their jobs properly, while proper care will only be available to the rich who can afford it.