Tuesday 18 March 2014

Generation W - or maybe pre-W

This week the Guardian's G2 magazine section is being edited by Generation Y who, I gather, are young people born during or since the 1990s.  They appear to replace Generation X, also known as the Baby Boomers: those born since the Second World War, who, it is alleged, never had it so good and are even now taking more than their fair share of the national income and thus depriving Generation Y, Z et al of decent life chances.

I'm not a Baby Boomer.  Having been born in  1937, before  the War, I'm presumably Generation W, or even pre-W.  I suppose I had a deprived childhood, but I didn't realise it, since everybody else, at least of the people I knew, led a similar lifestyle.  We really were "all in it together."  Designer jeans, or any other sort of jeans, hadn't yet appeared, our clothes were often patched and handed down, our weekly sweet ration was a tube or Rowntree's Cleargums, and when the fish and chip shops proudly announced   "Frying tonight, Fish" (as opposed to just chips ) we were  pretty indifferent as we usually ate only "chips with bits on" anyway. Our ultimate in treats was a dish of tinned mandarin oranges with evaporated milk as cream.  The height of family entertainment was to gather round the one radio in the house to listen to Saturday Night Theatre on the Home Service.

Our junior school classes were unstreamed and mostly 40+.  I supposed we ceased to be "all in it together" when, after the 11+, taken at a different primary school with a warning from our teacher  that it wasn't necessary to wear your best suit, some of us were creamed off to grammar schools and  the rest either stayed on at the elementary school or went to one of Mr Butler's newly-created secondary moderns.  Whichever, there was no shortage of jobs when we finished our education, and if we had chosen a job we didn't like it was not difficult to change to another.

Throughout our working lives the question of redundancy rarely arose and, even if it did it was pretty easy to find another post.  I was lucky to have a job as a teacher which I thoroughly enjoyed, and was able to devote some 97% of my energies to teaching people rather than filling in forms to prove to OFSTED or the like that I'd done it.

I now live very comfortably in retirement with my two index-linked pensions (state retirement pension plus teacher's pension) providing amply for my needs.

I do not, however, accept the charge that I am some sort of parasite robbing Generation Y of its future. That's because I paid for the comfortable situation which I now enjoy.  For most of my working life the standard rate of income tax was around  6/8d in the £; that's 33.3p or over 50% higher that it is now.  In addition my National Insurance Contributions, about 6% of my salary, were deducted every month from my pay, along with another 6% for the teachers' superannuation scheme.  On top of that, though from misguided choice rather than necessity, I paid a massive amount of additional tax and duty to sustain my tobacco habit, fondness for beer, and the luxury of driving a car.

I do not claim that Generations pre-W,  W or X were or are particularly virtuous.  Most of the the deductions made to fund our retirement were compulsory rather than voluntary.  However, it is wrong to accuse of selfishness which is harming the coming generations.  If Generation Y would like in their old age to enjoy the comfort and security that we do they should stop voting for parties which bribe them with promises of lower and lower taxes, and realise that you get what you pay for.


  1. Hi Peter

    All combined (not just income tax) are currently higher than they have been for much of the past 50 years https://pbs.twimg.com/media/BjAdBZ3CcAAbYx0.png:large

    Secondly, your 6% contribution will have covered just a small fraction of your teachers pension. The majority of it is subsidised by current working taxpayers like myself. To achieve a final salary index linked pension at 60 would require contributions of around 30% of salary if it were out your own pocket.

    I'm in an unsubsidised i.e. no massive taxpayer contributions, private sector defined contribution pension that is now typical for most workers. I'm contributing 14% of my salary, and will receive the princely sum of £6000 per year at 65.

    It's frustrating that you don't realise just how damn generous your pension is. And how those with much, much worse pensions are forced to pay for it.

    1. Thanks for your comments, Turnbull. I've looked at the link you give for combined taxes: is the graph for the UK only or the OECD as a whole? If for the UK it doesn't agree with the graph in yesterday's Guardian (top of page 5 of their budget supplement) which, for example, shows taxation in the UK for 1979 as 40% of GDP rather than the 32% in your source.

      Be that as it may, you're right to point our that income is not all that is taxed, and I suppose that indirect taxes, especially VAT at 20%, are much higher than the good old purchase tax (except for luxuries) and early rates of VAT.

      However, if we're still taking such a great wodge in tax and we're so much richer (GDP per capita about 4 times what it was when I started working) why on earth can't we afford to do the things we used to be able to do, especially run a humane social security system?

      Re my 6% contributions, I can't agree with you. I know the teachers' system isn't funded (the government's choice, no ours) but the local government schemes are and the Yorkshire one, with contributions very similar to ours, is substantially in credit and pays pensions at similar levels to ours..

      As I understand it superannuation and state retirement benefit contritions are a form of insurance. In the same way as you don't get your house and contents insurance contributions back if you're not flooded or burgled, if you die before you retire you don't get your NICs and superannuation contributions back. Similarly for if you don't live very long after retirement.

      I do recognise that, having lived for a long time, and hoping for may more years, I'm doing very well out of the system, but believe it's becasue that's the way insurance works and is not on the back of Generation Y.

    2. Hi Peter, thanks for the reply.

      The only reason some (not all) local government schemes are currently in credit is due to substantial employer (aka taxpayer) contributions, and looser funding rules than that placed on the private sector. I am correct in stating that 6% covers only a fraction of these pensions, with anywhere between 15-30% coming from the taxpayer to make up the rest of the fund. Equivalent schemes in the private sector are now almost completely unaffordable.

  2. The sociologists of course have a name for it - 'relative deprivation'. Richard Hoggard also discussed it in 'The Uses of Literacy'.
    I too used to sleep in a cardboard box - and I wouldn't have got to where I am now without smoking 40 a day and drinking ten pints a day. But at least I didn't go to Eton.