Wednesday, October 20, 2010

We've lost The Generation Game - but can the next contestants win?

On a day where cuts are the topic being talked about, I thought I would reflect on an issue which others have taken up – that of how the ‘baby boomers’ – those that were born in the 40s and 50s – have squandered the resources of the nation through the Thatcher-Major-Blair years – and as a result are probably the first generation to actually make life much more difficult for the next.

This first came to mind when I was reading the memoirs of John Simpson, the BBC reporter. After leaving university in the mid-60s, he married his girlfriend, purchased a house in Regents Park (Regents Park!!) and had the choice of three job offers (three!!), one of which was from the BBC which he accepted. He was only 22 years old!

Had he left university now, he would have had debts of up to £20,000, would have been very unlikely to be able to afford to buy a property – never mind anywhere in London – and as for three job offers, well, after 20 applications, you might get an interview.

In case you think this is a special example, my parents decided to buy a property in the mid-60s and decided on East Anglia as prices were reasonable and it was a nice area. Indeed they got a bungalow just outside Norwich where us kids were all to be born. I asked my Dad how many jobs did he apply for before being successful? One, he told me. So they were able to purchase a good property, near good schools, in a good area, be confident of getting a job – and they were not yet 27!

What is it like now?

- Students leave university with high debts (which are set to increase further) which could take them up to twenty years to pay off.
- Getting a job is a long and difficult process – and, as they say, there’s no such thing as job security. The days of settling down and waiting for your carriage clock are long gone.
- Getting onto the property ladder is even more difficult, forcing many to borrow beyond their means or give up the idea of buying forever.
- Pensions? Forget it – if you’re under 40 you’ll work till you drop. Unless you can afford a big chunk of savings to put aside (after you’ve spent money on all the above, that is) then you can forget about getting a pension sufficient to retire on.
- The environment is ruined – but then those over 60 are not worried as they won’t be around when the worse effects hit.
- Hospitals are falling to pieces while politicians blame each other.
- Education standards have fallen due to lack of investment and competing ideologies. Have you seen the questions on kids shows in the 1950s/60s?
- The economy goes through boom and bust cycles with regular recessions to keep us all on our toes and making long term financial planning almost impossible.

My niece is four years old. By 2030, she will have left university (if she can afford to go) and be making her way in the wide world. By 2050, she may have a family and teenage children. What sort of world will she grow into? When she looks at the state of the country in 2050 and remembers the previous generations, what will she and her contemporaries think of us?

The only plus point our parents are leaving behind is the lack of war. We won’t have the threat of invasion or have to live through a total war environment although terrorism and cyber-crime are of course now major threats.

But it’s all right to grumble – what can we do about it? How can our generation repair the mistakes of the last? This is the topic that has been written about again and again. Will we ever return to the days of a stable economy, free education for the most gifted, full employment, mass property ownership, job security, a protected environment, and secure pensions?

That is the challenge to all politicians present and future. The question is – will we meet it?

1 comment:

  1. Firstly, I am glad someone else has read John Simpson's excellent book which reveals an honest perspective on the realities which have been hidden by political spin over the years.

    As for the rest, we have become such an insular society, that apathy is now, unfortunately, the order of the day. Until people have their 48" plasma screens removed from the walls of their sitting rooms, while they are watching 'reality' TV and slanted news reports, they will never move from their sofas!

    You know, from recent personal experience, just how hard it is to motivate the general public into taking an interest (far less understanding) politics and the problems which we all are now facing.

    Sadly, for the future generations, you are right in everything you say, but while your own leadership in the Lib Dems have effectively turned the party into the Tory Dems the apathy will continue until it is all too late!

    I was excited by the LD policies pre-election but now I feel betrayed - and I am not even a member!

    So, after a long diversion, the answer to your final line is.....No - they are all too self centred!