There’s a war on! It’s being waged by people like David Willetts and organisations like the Resolution Foundation and Intergenerational Justice. The enemy are old people like me. We are apparently the cause of everything that is wrong with the world. We stole the future from the young. We own all the money and all the houses, so that our grandchildren have nowhere to live. We got a free university education and denied it to them; instead we saddled them with unpayable debts. We have cushy pensions while they may never be able to afford to retire. We are bed-blockers, using up NHS resources so that everyone else goes untreated. We are being protected from Covid-19 at the expense of their jobs and education. Worst of all, we voted Brexit and left them to pay the cost (since we will soon be dead and out of it).
I get very tired of all this millennial moaning. Yes, some of us do have a second pension so that we can live a decent life. But none of us got it for free. We had to pay for it throughout our working lives. This applies to civil servants too, by the way. Civil service pay is calculated by looking at what comparable workers get in the private sector and then subtracting what is necessary to pay for the pension (including the inflation-proofing). The pensions of retired civil servants are paid for by serving civil servants and don’t cost the general taxpayer anything. In fact, if civil service pensions were funded, like those of private industry, the fund would be in surplus. Meanwhile the majority of pensioners have only a small second pension or none at all, and have to choose in winter between eating and heating. Mostly they choose eating because death by hypothermia is a lot kinder than starvation. The number of old people dying from respiratory diseases soars every winter.
Young people today will not get defined benefit pensions unless they join the civil service because private industry is no longer providing them. It seems companies would rather spend their profits on directors’ pay or shareholder dividends. Besides, many young people today don’t work for traditional companies but in the gig economy, where they are defined misleadingly as “self-employed” and exploited like slaves. But none of this is our fault. It is young people, not old ones, who use Uber for transport and Deliveroo for meals, and buy from online companies like Amazon. All the disruption and unemployment caused by technological innovation is fuelled ultimately by young people’s infatuation with high tech.
What about the free university education that we received? Well yes, we did get our tuition fees paid and were given a grant (not a loan) to live on. But in those days, there were very few universities — mainly those that are now called the Russell Group. That means basically Oxford, Cambridge, London, a score or so of good “redbrick” provincial universities, and a few new “plate glass” universities like Brunell and Sussex. Altogether, there were university places for about 5% of each year. So if you weren’t in the top 5% intellectually, you couldn’t go to university. You might find a place in a polytechnic or teacher training college, but most young people went straight into work. We got free education because there were so few of us that the country could afford to pay for it. Nowadays half of all young people go to “uni” (and how appropriate that they use this diminutive form in an age when every jumped-up technical college calls itself a university!). They come out with degrees in fake subjects like media studies and sports studies that don’t equip them to do anything useful. Of course the country cannot afford to pay for this junket.
What about housing? Well, there is real injustice here, I admit, but it is not of our doing. When we bought our houses, house prices were low (my house cost 3,500 pounds sterling). Now, especially in London, they are sky high. But we oldies have not profited from these price rises. For an old person like me, the value of a house is that it has walls to keep out the cold and a roof to keep out the rain. If I sell it, I will have neither walls nor roof unless I use the money to buy another house. So I gain nothing at all from an increase in price that exists only on paper.
The cause of house price inflation, especially in London, is the influx of dirty money from abroad, enthusiastically encouraged by politicians. Russian oligarchs and Arab princes have bought the kind of properties that were previously bought by wealthy English people. So the wealthy English people have switched to the kind of housing once bought by upper-middle-class people, and they have dispossessed the lower middle class, who in turn have dispossessed the working class. This endless merry-go-round was encouraged by governments of all colours because political orthodoxy has it that rising house prices make people feel good.
It has also been government policy for some time to cut funds to local authorities while loading them with more and more social responsibilities and manpower costs. The reasoning seems to be that less and less of what goes wrong can then be blamed on central government. No doubt the fact that many local authorities are run by the party in opposition at Westminster makes this policy even more attractive. But a side effect of this policy is that when some old woman breaks her hip and goes into hospital, she cannot get out again because there are no social services in place to look after her in her own home. She has become a bed blocker through no fault of her own.
But what annoys me most of all is that the young are totally blind to all the advantages that they enjoy over us at the same age. They have the Internet. They can stream music and videos of their choice all day long at ridiculously low cost. If we wanted to hear our own choice of music at their age, we had to save up to buy vinyl discs. If we wanted to see a film, we had to pay to go to the local cinema, perhaps once a fortnight. They can buy an endless supply of cheap, fashionable clothes produced by slave labour in Indonesia. At their age we had to save up for weeks to be able to afford a new dress or coat. Or else we had to make it ourselves. We cooked for ourselves. They take it for granted that you eat out or have cooked meals delivered. And they take warmth for granted. They have grown up in centrally heated homes. When we were growing up, you had to be at least middle class to have central heating.
Millennials take their holidays abroad, and not just in summer. They frequently go abroad for stag nights or hen nights. When I was young, only the rich ever holidayed abroad. Everybody else went to Margate or Scarborough or some similar seaside place for a fortnight in July or August. Holidays meant buckets and spades and donkey rides and spending pennies on pierside arcade machines. What millennial would be content with that nowadays?
We did not have computers. We did not have mobile phones, let alone smartphones which are themselves computers more powerful than the ones that sent the first astronauts into space. Most of us did not have the Bank of Mum and Dad to fall back on when we needed money. Our parents were poor, like us. And we did not have the luxury of getting offended when people said things to us that we didn’t like. There was no political correctness in those days. People said what they thought, and if you didn’t like it, you could go elsewhere. You certainly could not demand that they be silenced, especially if they were older than you. We were taught to work hard, to ignore insults, to put up with things and to make our own entertainments. And many of us have lived surprisingly happy lives by following that programme. We have nothing to be ashamed of.
Millennials are not happy. They have huge expectations that are constantly being disappointed. They have poor job prospects because they have a poor work ethic that puts employers off. They are short of money because they fritter it away on glossy magazines and expensive coffee in disposable cups instead of making instant coffee at home as we did. They believe that they are the noblest and most virtuous generation that has ever lived and are constantly signalling that virtue to anyone who will listen. They make a point of getting offended as many times a day as possible to show how much they care about social justice. They have a list of phobias as long as your arm to pin on other people, although curiously Jew-phobia is not one of them. Nowadays you can be as phobic as you like about Jews, provided that you call it anti-Zionism. But God help you if you say something even mildly critical about someone who doesn’t seem to know what gender they are!
And yes, a lot of us did vote for Brexit. We did so because, unlike millennials, we can actually remember a time when this country stood on its own two feet, when Parliament was sovereign and its laws were enforced by British judges and not foreign ones. The country was not rich in those days. Most people had a fairly basic standard of living and we had to eat seasonally rather than importing out-of-season food from the south of Europe all the year round. Only tropical fruits such as bananas and oranges were imported. But people were employed in proper jobs and we could produce goods more easily at prices that we could afford because we did not have the burden of compliance with labyrinthine European regulations.
Nobody knows if it is possible to get back there from where we are now. Everyone, whether pro- or anti-Brexit, agrees that in the short term, we are in for a very bumpy ride. The irony is that if there is good smooth driving beyond the bumps, it will be the young people who profit from it in the end, not us oldies. But I bet you they won't be grateful!