BL16 - Page 24



I
t’s a contrarian cliché to
lament that that there are
things you “can’t say”, before
proceeding to say exactly that.
From immigration reform to the
culture wars to discipline in
schools, there are some opinions
simultaneously considered too
unpopular to air in public, yet
worthy of getting rather a lot of
airtime nonetheless.
Intergenerational inequality,
however, is in another league. The
disparity of wealth between the
old and the young in this country
is vast, yet we simply do not want
to know. If you don’t believe me,
look at what happened in May
when the House of Lords
Committee on Intergenerational
Fairness tentatively suggested that
maybe there was, actually,
something a bit off about the taxes
of a family on the minimum wage
funding the TV licences, free travel
and winter fuel allowance of a
75-year-old enjoying retirement in
a house they probably purchased
for peanuts five decades ago.
This was slammed as an attack
on people who had worked hard
all their lives (well, until
retirement, anyway). When the
BBC, which now shoulders the
costs of free TV licences,
announced in June that it would
restrict this subsidy to over-75s
claiming pension credit – in other
words, means-test the benefit for
those who genuinely can’t afford
it – it was treated as a national
scandal, with the government
wading in to slam the decision.
But determined as we are to
keep kicking the can of an everageing population down the road
while we tear ourselves apart over
Brexit, it’s a conversation we
desperately need to have. Because
unpopular as it is to say, Britain is
strangling the economic
opportunities of its young to
pander to its old.
Let’s start with the ring-fenced
triple-locked state pension – which,
if you didn’t know, makes up a fifth
of government spending. That’s
higher than the proportion going to
the NHS, and more than education,
defence, and welfare combined.
Opinion
AGE CONCERN
Should pensioners who own their
homes be relying on the state to fund
their care, let alone their bus passes?
The numbers just don’t add up...
R AC H E L
CUNLIFFE
Comment and
f e a t u r e s e d i t o r,
City AM
Now humour me, as we take a
look at some data. In 1976, 14.2 per
cent of the population was aged
over 65. In 2016, that was up to 18
per cent, and the figure is expected
to hit almost 25 per cent by 2046.
By this time, the working age
population will have shrunk to
just 58 per cent. Without rises in
the retirement age, therefore, a
quarter of the population will be
reliant on a dwindling pool of
workers to fund all their pensions,
medical and care needs.
Or to put it another way: in
1976 there were 4.3 working age
adults for every pensioner; in 2016
there were 3.5. In another 30 years,
there will be just over two. Keep
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BOISDALELIFE .COM
SUMMER 2019
ISSUE 16
the spending priorities as they are,
and that would require a tax
increase of 87 per cent for every
working adult, just to stand still.
And all these retirees need to
live somewhere. Many of them do
so in style. While it’s true that not
every pensioner bought a property
early in life, those that did have
reaped the benefits.
It’s no wonder that pensioners
are, on average, £20 a week better
off than workers. Over-50s hold
three quarters of all Britain’s
housing wealth, and over 65s own
43 per cent – while also receiving
two fifths of all NHS spending.
Against this backdrop, we hit
the social care crisis – a challenge
which amounts to electoral
dynamite. Just ask Theresa May,
who in 2017 dared to suggest that
people who have enjoyed massive
housing equity could use some of
that wealth to fund their own care.
She promptly lost her majority.
But if pensioners aren’t going to
pay for their care, who is?
According Jacob Rees-Mogg, an
advocate for low taxes and a small
state in every other area, the
answer is the government, as it is
apparently “unfair” to ask those
with housing wealth to dip into it.
That hands the bill to young
workers who are already struggling
under a distorted tax burden and
unable to buy their homes.
The old adage that young
people don’t know how lucky they
are, and have opportunities that
their grandparents could only
dream of, works both ways.
Affording somewhere to live and
paying bills is considerably harder
now than it was half a century ago.
And it’s only set to get worse.
The fact that we can’t even have
a sensible conversation about
frivolities like TV licences and free
travel shows how mired in denial
Britain is. Personally, I’d ask
anyone in receipt of a state
pension and owning their home to
do the maths, and to wonder just
how much of a priority to them
their grandchildren really can be.
But that, apparently, is the kind
of unpopular opinion you really
can’t air in public.
IL L U S T RAT IO N : MA RT I N K IN G D O M. CO N O R M C DO N N EL L
TABLE TALK





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