The elderly aren’t all innocent

Posted: September 26, 2012 in Uncategorized
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I was provoked into writing this by another series of articles, in various national newspapers, lamenting the Liberal Democrats for daring to suggest that wealthier OAPs should be means tested for various State benefits. These would include things like free television licences, winter fuel payments and free bus travel. Nobody could argue with that surely. Vulnerable old people trapped, shivering in their damp flats, with not a soul to talk to, or even the comforting hum of a television for solace, cursing the name of Nick Clegg with their dying breath.

As usual though, this is a thousand shades of grey painted black. The pensioners Clegg is most likely to refer to are the prosperous Baby Boomers; those born amidst the population boom immediately following the Second World War. Their parents fought or contributed to the war effort, and demanded the country be rebuilt with the working classes in mind. Thus, the Welfare State and National Health Service were implemented by the Attlee Labour Government, and pledged not to be repealed by successive Conservative governments. That is, until the Neo-Liberal explosion unleashed following Margaret Thatcher’s ascent to office, as a slavish media assisted her in the gradual dismantling of all of the things these people had fought an apocalyptic war for. There is of course an argument that the very people who built the Welfare State are complicit, but these were surely the only people who had the right to.

The people who need to really examine themselves in these troubling times are the Baby Boomers themselves: people born after the war ended, who feasted on the bountiful fruits of their parents’ sacrifice: fully public National Health Service with free prescriptions across the UK, an adequate welfare safety net, generous pensions, free University education, bountiful apprenticeships, a government run for the people rather than a plutarchy, plentiful council housing for a moderate population, publicly run energy, utilities and railways. These are people who may have been born working class, and used this spirit of community and these mutual opportunities to ascend the social ladder. Yet, despite enjoying these benefits, the Baby Boomers were complicit in allowing Thatcher, Major and then New Labour, to whittle away these opportunities for future working classes. The irony being that some former working classes took up Thatcher’s initiatives unflinchingly, lapped up own their own homes, and now most likely form the ‘rentier class’, charging unaffordable rents to young people desperate for a foothold in this brave new world.

I’m not for a minute suggesting that these people are calculating and cruel by doing this, because of course the ‘markets’ allowed to balloon since the 1980s set the going rates, with no sign of rent controls. But Baby Boomers more than any other group, with their knowledge of post-war history and its resultant benefits and opportunities afforded to the working classes particularly, have betrayed the next generation which seeks to emulate them. I include my own parents in this, so I don’t say it lightly. They betrayed by giving credibility to Thatcher’s decimation of anything resembling cooperation or community; by not fighting back, by keeping her and resultant rampant right-wing governments in power imposing Neo-Liberalism with barely a whimper.

I’ve clearly set myself up for a fall now with questions of how I attempt to change things, though sharing important contextual information is a very small part I might add.

After all that, I don’t agree with slashing any pensioners’ benefits, not because some don’t deserve it, but because, as was pointed out to me, it is divisive when we require unity in the face of adversity. Universalism is a wise weapon against an ‘every man for himself’ society.

  1. You’re pretty much right, but your caution is a little unfortunate.

    Universal means testing vs. no means testing are not the only options.

    Another possibility would be that any pensioner with assets totalling over (say) £ 500 000 should be automatically excluded from free tv licences, bus passes etc. No extra paperwork would be required by government, as long as ministers were prepared to say that they were reliant on the honesty of the public – and to name and shame a few prominent rich people who scrooged on paying their own bus fare. After a few local papers had found their local businessmen travelling for free, even the tabloids would be forced to hound the wealthy for a change.

    Granted, it wouldn’t bring in much money – but that’s not really the point, is it?

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