My husband and I (gosh, I sound like the queen!) are both over sixty. I’m not quite sure how that happened, although I suspect it’s a simple case of tempus fugit, and the thing about tempus fugitting is that is unstoppable, so I can absolutely guarantee that this will happen to you, too, barring accidents. I know there’s a tendency for the young to feel immortal and invulnerable, but trust me, this is just a cruel illusion. Been there, done that, got the tee shirt.
Looking at you (my sons’ generation) today, I see an awful lot of really great young people who are innovative, energetic, intelligent, polite & courteous, and who want to make a positive impact on the world that they have inherited. Well, I’m not talking about you. You guys can stop reading right here. I love you guys.
For the rest of you, I have a few things I’d like to get off my chest.
When we grizzled old crumblies are walking around town, using public transport, doing our shopping etc, we often have to pause to make way for you youngsters. There are those of you who don’t wait for us to exit lifts, step off escalators, pass in narrow areas, or even for me to walk through a door which OH is holding open for me, and some of you actually grin and say ‘thank you’ as you push and jostle past us1. Some of you do it thoughtlessly, but some of you seem to do it because you feel entitled, or perhaps just … more important than we are.
And this may be because some of you think we oldies are to blame for ruining your entire futures. I have heard that you also think we are horribly greedy and selfish for expecting your taxes to pay for our pensions.
Well, let me explain a few things to you.
We, your older generation, paid a proportion of our wages to support our own elders. We watched our parents do the same; paying in a percentage of their wages each week, from the year 1946, to provide healthcare and geriatric care for everyone, the difference being that they received their pensions at the promised time3. We were PROMISED our pensions at the age of sixty years for women, sixty-five for men, and we arranged our savings and our lives accordingly4. So how is it fair to us that the government can now renege on that promise, leaving us high and dry?
The bottom line on pensions is that we paid, during our working lives, into a compulsory fund which the government promised us would provide an adequate pension for our old age, beginning at sixty years old for women, and sixty-five for men, and that promise has not been kept.
The vote on leaving the EU was a democratic process. I’m not sure quite what your view of ‘democratic process’ is, but in terms of the referendum, it means that everyone over 18 years old who was neither a guest of HM Prison Service nor mentally unfit to make important decisions had the right to vote, yes or no. You had a whole day to make that vote, and there was provision to vote by post or by proxy if you couldn’t make it to a polling station. The votes were counted, and since more people voted to leave than voted to remain (that’s regarded as the ‘opinion of the people’) the government acted accordingly, and triggered Article 50. If you couldn’t be bothered to 1) get yourself to a polling station, or 2) make the necessary arrangements and vote by post or by proxy, you have absolutely no right to complain about the result if you don’t like it.
Did you not know which way to vote? Couldn’t decide? Well, neither could I, so I signed up for an online university course about Brexit which covered the history of the EU, the advantages and disadvantages to being a member, what works well and what doesn’t, and the implications for leaving. It was still a hard decision to make, but I thought about it, made my (informed) decision, and voted. You cannot take that right from me, nor do you have any right to know which way I voted or to complain about my choice.
Don’t blame us! My generation can hardly be held responsible for the industrial revolution which brought the age of coal-fired industry, pea-soupers and the birth of the
infernal internal combustion engine. We are not to blame for the drastic change in agriculture following WWII which resulted in inorganic fertilisers and pesticides being poured over the earth in vast quantities – I was just eight years old when Rachel Carson wrote her book ‘Silent Spring’, cataloguing the environmental damage which was being done so recklessly by the indiscriminate use of pesticides like DDT. And I loathe the proliferation of plastic packaging probably more than you do 5.
So. I have news for you. I still have a life at sixty-four years old, and if all goes well I could keep it for another three decades. If you are really lucky, one day you will be sixty-four, too (and then sixty-five, seventy, seventy-five, and so on). At the moment I am in full possession of my faculties, have been described as intelligent, and I am sane. While I struggle a bit with health, I am still fully capable of independent living, and like so many others of my age, I spend a part of my time volunteering6 and I have family and hobbies and things to do. You may find yourself in the same position, or you may not be so lucky; when you are sixty-four, you may be suffering from long-term health problems. You may be clinically depressed, injured in an accident, or unable to work (or live) independently for a whole truck-load of reasons. And you may then feel differently about all that ‘unnecessary’ help you think we are getting.
Perhaps what’s needed is a change in attitude. This occurs to me having recently watched on the news that a lot of young people are getting into serious debt. The first example they gave us was a girl who looked barely old enough to sign a credit agreement, but was in way over her head having taken out three loans within a couple of years. The first was for a holiday to Disneyland in Paris. Well, I’m sorry if this sounds harsh, but maybe you should do as we did when we were young and only buy what you can afford?
So let me turn your question on its head. You ask why you should pay to support us in our old age. I ask you why we should go without essentials like food, medical attention and a roof over our heads so that you can go on foreign holidays and run a car that you can’t afford and expect someone else to pick up the pieces? Because, make no mistake, defaulting on your debt costs everyone else money, and causes taxes and the cost of living to go up.
Well, there you go. That’s all I have to say. Do forgive me if you are not one of the profligate and do not hold these hostile and offensive views. But I did tell you to stop reading after the second paragraph!
1 Twenty-five to thirty-five years old, roughly speaking
2 Which actually bloody hurts, by the way, when you are old and stiff and have trouble moving quickly
3 They were the first to do so, by the way. The first to pay in, and the first to receive State pensions. My father was twenty-seven years old at the time, and had been working since he was just a little over fifteen years old when he was apprenticed to the printing trade for a period of seven years. In those days, the Master practically owned you. He got ten shillings a week (that’s the equivalent of £26 per annum at a time when average yearly salary was £195.80) and was allowed one week’s holiday per year. I know this because I have his Articles – the legal document which binds the apprentice to his trade. I don’t think anyone would have paid National Insurance (for pensions etc) from that sum, but would have begun doing so at the end of the apprenticeship, at age twenty-two. My mother also left school early, became a nurse, and voluntarily worked past retirement age.
4 Many of us also paid money into company pensions (superannuation schemes) or private pensions to ensure a more comfortable retirement and avoid being a burden on our children. Some of those pensions companies invested our money badly, so that many people who did try to provide that little bit more for their retirement found they had little or nothing after having paid into the fund for decades. In the case of Equitable Life, I believe it was 90,000 of us.
5 If not more, because trust me, as the strength and flexibility of your fingers begins to fail you, you will curse it with all the profane vocabulary at your disposal, even if that is only multiple fucks.
6 Volunteers are filling in for more and more services which have had their government funding cut. Services like mental health, because ‘Care in the Community’ often means ‘No Care at All’. Volunteers run soup kitchens for the homeless, make baby clothing for premature baby units, fill in on hospital wards doing things like pushing the library trolleys around, and a whole truck-load of other stuff. An awful lot of retired people do an awful lot of volunteering. They have the time, you see.