Tuesday 1 March 2011

Confessions of a Non Baby-Boomer

Baby-booomers are predicted to be in the news today, as the National Pensioners' Convention is to lobby parliament to point out that not all the retired are living the life of Riley by squandering their children's inheritance.

Having been born before rather than after the war I am not strictly speaking a baby-boomer but in many ways I feel I have had even better fortune than they. Of course the war years and those immediately following were austere, but I wasn't old enough to realise what I was missing and as no one I knew enjoyed the luxuries of "normal" life there was no one to compare with. Sweets were limited to 2oz of cleargums a week but I do not remember ever being seriously hungry or cold, except that boys in those days were expected to wear short pants up to the age of 12 or so,so we all experienced chapped knees and thighs during the winter, and the only remedy, "Snowfire" I think it was called, really wasn't much use.

When I reached the age of 11 secondary education was free and compulsory and all medical attention was free at the point of use. When I left school all higher education was free, along with maintenance provision and fares to and from home three times a year. When I eventually qualified as a teacher there was no difficulty in finding a job, nor even the necessity of elaborate applications (I did not become aware of CVs until I was almost thirty.) In teaching there was such a shortage that if you could hold the chalk and walk three paces without assistance you were in, and the same applied to most jobs. Those who found they had chosen the wrong occupation had no difficulty in leaving and training for another. Until the mid 1970s unemployment hovered between 200,000 and 250,000. When it began to creep towards half a million (whilst Michael Foot was Secretary of State for Employment) we wondered if society could survive.

Throughout my working career the question of redundancy never arose: I either stayed where I was or moved as the fancy took me. Then, to my great surprise, I was offered early retirement about 15 years before I expected it. The offer arose not, I think, from my incompetence, but from the fact that the effects on the birth rate of the introduction of the contraceptive pill in the 1960s meant that there weren't quite so many sixth formers around to teach, and Mrs Thatcher was threatening to rate-cap local authorities to force them to cut their expenditure. So I was surplus to requirements and could be jettisoned to meet the financial requirements.

I firmly believe that my generation is the most fortunate ever. I do not, however, believe that I have been or am a parasite on society. I paid for my pension throughout my working life, and the superannuation deduction was a significant portion of my salary, which was modest for most of the time. I also had the sense to "buy in" those years for which I'd missed making contributions whilst working abroad.

I do, however accept that my generation has been selfish. We have demanded, and largely received, "Scandinavian" levels of services but been prepared to tolerate only American levels of taxation to pay for them. The real problem has been a failure of political leadership. Throughout the second part of the 20th century all political parties have pandered to this illusion and none, not even the Liberals, has had the honesty and courage to say that if you want a civilised society you have to pay for it.

Alas today's dominant philosophy is to dismantle the welfare state I have enjoyed rather than fund it properly. Unless successfully challenged it is this philosophy which will rob our children of their inheritance.

1 comment:

  1. Growing up in the 1950s I'm still waiting for the robots we were all promised to do those boring household chores. And it was expected that future generations would have it even cushier.

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