Sunday, 11 March 2018

Baby Boomers versus Millennials

Hmm. Class War may be old hat, but Generation War is definitely an issue nowadays. Specifically, between the so-called Baby Boomers and the so-called Millennials. The former being those born in the ten or so years following the Second World War - say anytime up to 1955 - and those born around the year 2000, give or take five years either way - so that they are presently young adults.

These are terrible labels. I resent being tagged a 'baby boomer', although I do qualify as one, being born in 1952, the first product of parents who were young adults during the War and met and married when peace came. The label sounds horribly American. It conjures up an era of post-war prosperity as the economy switched from manufacturing war machines and equipment to consumer goods, creating full employment and a surging standard of living for all. That may have been true in some parts of America. It wasn't true in Britain, which was still burdened with food rationing while I was a toddler. Although Dad had a decent Civil Service job with prospects, I don't remember many luxuries in the home while I was young.

Still, I grew up in a world that, even if it was overshadowed by the constant threat of nuclear war - 'Mutually Assured Destruction', remember? - seemed to get more and more comfortable. My education was completely free, and despite school being a place I hated, I emerged with decent A-Levels in the bag, and they gave me a seamless entry at eighteen into a good job with a good salary, and a so-called 'gold-plated' pension at the end of it. And I now enjoy that pension, and have done for very nearly thirteen years since retiring in 2005, with the State Pension as a handy top-up since the end of 2014. In the last third of my life, it's good to know that I have all these things:

# An adequate income for the rest of my days.
# A nice little home of my own, mortgage-free.
# A touring caravan for lots of holidays.
# A high-spec car to tow it, and run around in.
# Good health and no dependents.

That's the pleasant side of the coin, mind. There's the dark side...

# No fat wad in the bank. That adequate income largely gets spent. I live well, but haven't yet been able to put by much for future medical needs, house maintenance, and a replacement car. I plan to rectify that, but it's only a plan, and all sorts of unexpected things could thwart it.
# I'm on my own. No family to act as a safety net, or to look out for me when I get old and feeble. I absolutely want independence, of course; but the future price of it could be dire.

All said, though, my situation is a happy one - even if it isn't enviable in all respects. A happy and fulfilling life isn't all about having oodles of leisure time, and enough cash for meals out, nice clothes and trinkets. It's also about such things as family, and loving someone, and having distinction in the community. But I think quite a lot of people would be wistful for my particular situation. And I am sure that all over the country there are other Lucy Melfords with an equally rosy life. We are the Baby Boomers. We have economic clout. We have experience and long memories. We have voting power. We rule OK.

And I can perfectly see how the Millennials might look at us and feel that life just isn't fair.

They may have had an even more comfortable upbringing, filled with toys and gadgets and McDonalds and Facebook, and a host of other wonders that I never knew, and a university experience too, but - for most of them - the glittering career isn't there at the end of it, nor is a home of their very own ever likely to be a reality, and it seems that they will never be able to retire. A depressing outlook, not helped in any way by watching the Baby Boomers - at least baby boomers like myself - having a ball. Or if not a ball, then at least lots of merry little gatherings with white wine and nibbles, and no special worries apart from one's weight and clothes size, and the odd sore toe.

In any standoff between Haves and Have-Nots, the Haves look gross and the Have-Nots get sympathy. The labels ensure that individual cases that confound the image get overlooked or ignored, and you simply have a simplistic confrontation between stark stereotypes.  Where does this end? In a country used to turmoil it means eventual revolution. In Britain it just leads to an undercurrent of discontent and grouchy remarks. We don't do violent social upheaval. Or not so far.

It's a smug platitude to say that it's all a matter of chance - your date of birth, home location, and the economic position and attitudes of one's parents all combining to determine the course of your life. And that the Baby Boomers were just lucky, as some other generations have been before them, and will be again. In a sense, that's completely true, but it's not by any means the whole story, and it's no consolation whatever to any Millennial wanting to get on.

What can be done? Well, I do think that my generation enjoys old age benefits that are, in some cases, unnecessarily generous. I'd be content with an annual State Pension increase tied only to the CPI, so that it keeps pace with inflation (which is fair), but doesn't bound ahead as it is apt to do under the current 'Triple Lock' arrangement. I could personally manage without my £200 Winter Fuel Allowance and my £10 Christmas Bonus. I don't regularly use my free Senior Railcard, and wouldn't miss it. I don't really need any of those small age concessions you can get when buying an admission ticket.

I'm speaking of foregoing maybe £500 worth of age-related discounts and benefits each year. It doesn't sound much. But if the twelve million Baby Boomers like me also forewent the same amount, that's £6 billion to use on things that might ease the situation for the hard-pressed Millennials. Why doesn't the Chancellor see to it?

3 comments:

  1. Lucy, I am not so sure that all "baby boomers" can afford to give up their little discounts. Many have lost most of their savings when interest rates collapsed and capital was spent and can never recover. Many more have raided those savings after being left high and dry with pension age changes and income free years to fill before they finally kick in.

    They might not be looking with sympathy with those "millennials" who spend on clothes never worn out and jet off on holidays to far ends of the world, not the frugal souls some of us had to be.

    An uncle with no direct family to leave to, did a financial deal with an insurance company to remortgage the house and lived into his 90's in comfort, very dented GTI parked outside...

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  2. You state the counter-position well. I was speaking as somebody who can afford to lose my old-age perks. I do understand that that many, if not most, pensioners are not so well-placed.

    Looking around, it's easy to see that most older people have financial limitations, burdens and ongoing commitments that stop them from being languid and carefree lotus-eaters. Most, for instance, have at least one elder parent to care for, besides being the Bank of Mum and Dad or unpaid childminder for their grown-up children. I'm in a definite minority, being completely unencumbered with such responsibilities.

    I have a lot of sympathy for a pleasant and well-qualified youngster who can't get a decent job; but none for somebody who squandered their chances to excel at school, and now blames the baby-boomer generation - and not themselves - for their lack of employment and housing opportunities. I remember facing implacable social pressure to revere study, ambition and hard work, and parental pressure to put saving up for a deposit on a first flat well before having a good social life. The emphasis was on making one's own way in the world, and not expecting help from any quarter - partly because it was a poorer society in the 1960s and 1970s, and the State was parsimonious with its handouts. Nor could (or would) the Bank of Mum and Dad step in nearly so much.

    Lucy

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  3. Lots of things here. House prices in the 70's and 80's were much lower, you could get 2-3 times your salary as a mortgage loan from a bank not 6 x as today. Saving for a deposit, well do the maths yourself and calculate what percentage of your salary you would need to save to get a deposit at today's prices. Many young have been simply priced out of the housing market. Whatever happened to mortgage tax relief, that went. Final salary pensions have all but disappeared. In the early 80's only 5 % of school leavers went to university and there were no fees either. So thats £50 K saved. People with A levels got jobs which employers now ask for degrees. The apprenticeship system is no more. Heavy industry destroyed which employed so many. In the 70's people expected a job for life, no gig economy then. I have some real issues with the young of today but do sometimes feel the baby boomers have left the rest of us with their bill to pay.

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Lucy Melford