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When I get older

Posted on February 25, 2017 at 12:05 PM

Scrap universal state pension and help the young instead

Birthdays are to be celebrated, but crossing the decade marks in your life (29 to 30 for example) is often regarded as an achievement you would rather not shout about, although failing to achieve these milestones would be of more concern. Fifty sounds a lot older than 49, but I never realised how much there was to celebrate when I recently passed my 60th Birthday. Overnight I became entitled to substantial discounts on a wide range of goods and services from cinema tickets to rail fares. Suddenly I was living in discount heaven a ‘pensioners poundland’. I pay no prescription charges despite the fact that I am likely to impose an increasing financial burden on the already overstretched NHS as I get older. I get free eye tests and may even be entitled to a free wig! And yet I am still working full time in the NHS earning a salary, which is at least 30% more than my newly appointed colleagues receive.

I enjoy motor insurance at a fraction of the cost that a 25 year old would have to pay. In a few years I will be entitled to winter fuel allowance, a state pension and a free bus pass. If I lived in London, I could already be travelling free of charge on all buses, underground and overground trains within the capital. Just imagine, a 60 year old banker using his ‘senior’ Oyster card to get to the city from his dockland penthouse free of charge. Surely this is not right

The fiscal divide between the rich and the poor widens year on year. The hope that ‘trickle down’ economics would narrow this income gap has evaporated. But last week the Resolution Foundation highlighted an even more striking variation in earnings according to age. Since 1881 (when records began) people in their twenties have always earned more in real terms than the generation before – until now. Over the last seven years there has been only a tiny rise in real income. But those over the age of 60 have enjoyed an 11% rise while those in their twenties have seen a 7% fall. Thirty years ago people in their twenties were earning 15% more than those aged over 60; now the situation is reversed. Of the nine million people living in the UK aged between 19 to 24, almost one third are living in poverty. Those with children are more likely to find themselves in this situation. And children raised in poverty are far less likely to realise their full genetic potential.

You would be forgiven for thinking all of this poverty is a consequence of long-term unemployment combined with reductions in benefit payments. But you would be wrong. The charity ‘Shelter’ has data showing almost half of the London homeless have a job. They are the young people who pull your pint, deliver your pizza and grill your hamburger. Although it is likely that employed homelessness is less common in the south west where housing costs are much lower, the reality is that zero-hours contracts, the minimum wage and sessional work through a temping agency simply don’t pay enough. Even those fortunate enough to be in a well-paid job are likely to be paying off their student loan for many years and will need to work well into their late sixties to earn a decent pension.

Nearly three-quarters of pensioners own their own home outright so have no outgoings in rent or mortgage repayments; a luxury enjoyed by only one fifth of working age people. Newspaper headlines trumpeting the boom in property prices may delight the elderly homeowner, but for many this simply means higher rents and the possibility of home ownership becoming an increasingly distant dream.

We baby boomers belong to a generation whose parents and grandparents fought two world wars and endured a cold one. We thrived with the prosperity that long-term peace brings. We enjoyed free education and the safety net of a welfare state. We expected the earth, got it and then ruined it. Now we expect our children to pay the repair bills. And yet I will soon benefit from a state pension with the ‘triple lock’ guarantee to increase the state pension every year by matching the highest of inflation, average earnings or a minimum of 2.5%. Ensuring my pension income will not be eroded by the gradual increase in the cost of living. I have no doubt that this is essential for many, but pensioner poverty is now largely restricted to the very elderly. The new pensioners from the baby boom have never had it so good.

It is time to turn the discount culture upside down and shift wealth from the old to the young. Those, like me, who do not need a state pension, should not get it. The money saved should be reinvested in the younger generation giving more support to those raising families or trying to pay rent or mortgage. We cannot simply dump austerity on the millennials. Our goal should be to relieve this jilted generation of the financial burden of education fees, build affordable housing and maintain a supportive welfare state. And if you are 60 today; many happy returns and welcome to my world.

Western Morning News 25th February 2017

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