Baby boomers: the cats with the cream

Fiona Wilson gives a mother’s perspective on the dismal legacy of the baby boomers, and wonders why the younger generation is so acquiescent

Seven years ago I sat in the audience at a UCAS meeting with my daughter. The speaker there was encouraging as many as possible school-leavers to go to university. The government target for university entry was 50%.

He showed graphs and statistics to support his remarks which projected the resulting favourable future incomes that a university degree would procure. Like other baby boomers that went to university, his fees and maintenance costs whilst there will have been paid for by the state. Since that talk university tuition fees have gone up to £3,000 and now £9,000. Graduates who did as they were encouraged are leaving with debts of around £30,000 and finding that their degree, which many others have too, in this job-scarce country, is of little value.

Last year my daughter wanted to enter the property market. We knew the price of buying was formidable. She, like many in her generation is now renting. Who from? A baby boomer who is pocketing the income for which she is working.

Now the unions (headed by the baby boomers) are suggesting that the youngsters strike along with their older colleagues against proposed pension changes. Is this another trick? Quite likely. When those over 50 retire, who will have to work to pay for all the public sector employees to enjoy enhanced pensions, having paid relatively little into the scheme, for the rest of their lives (often for over 30 years apiece)? The youngsters.

Too tolerant

Why is it that, despite this unfairness, the younger generation are so accepting of the detrimental changes that are imposed upon them? I see a number of possible reasons:

  • Unlike the older generation, who have paid off their mortgages and have the luxury of time afforded by retirement, the younger generation have little time to shout and be heard. The more vocal and able have jobs. They are working hard in an attempt to get where their elders are. Those that are able to attempt this do not have the time to shout and object.
  • Young people generally do not have the confidence to shout and fight for their corner. However, older people will have developed confidence whilst working during a boom time. Their significant status at work and their resulting financial well-being has given them the impression that it is they are “in charge”. The voice of youngsters is oppressed.
  •  Each generation mixes largely with those of its own age. The older generation reinforce their views with each other. Meanwhile, the younger together accept that they are on a par with their contemporaries. Through not discussing the situation with their elders, they are not aware that the economic situation was much more favourable a generation ago. The younger generation are accepting of their fate.
  • The economic situation that has been handed to the younger generation is dire. The government draws up its income and expenses account on a cash basis. There are enormous liabilities which have been promised but for which the first interest and capital payment has not yet been made. When they enter the equation, youngsters will find they have even more to pay than they envisage. Youngsters are ignorant of this poisoned legacy.
  • Although young people find their life-style gruelling, they assume that this is how the previous generation found it, and they trust that they will achieve in the same way that the older generation did. We are exploiting their child-like trust.
Posted on: 29 November, 2011

17 thoughts on “Baby boomers: the cats with the cream

  1. John

    The 50+ generally aren’t striking. The Government has stated that anyone within 10 years of public sector retirement age (60-10) will be protected.

    The Gov has made this apparent concession to prevent influential managers supporting the strikes. It has also done this because anyone aged 50+ would simply have left the schemes and put their last few years of contributions into ISA/PremBonds. The Government knew this and doesn’t want to lose these contributions and of course their votes.

    The Gov and the baby boomer media have successfully turned this issue into a public sector v private sector worker fight. In reality its younger public sector workers v older public sector workers. Its a clever manipulatative move and we’ve fell for it hook line and sinker – we’re actually fighting amongst ourselves to determine which younger generation group will pay for the grossly undeservable large pensions of the boomers, who paid so little.

    After this battle, we’ll be faced with social care costs being put on NI contributions, just when the boomers stop paying it. And the next pre-election bribe for the boomers will off course be the introduction of a local income tax, just as they retire.

  2. Tom

    I agree with everything that is written above but, as a 25 year old, I thought I would try and answer this. First, I think you have missed out one important element which is the pure size of cohorts. There are more people over 50 than there are under 30. So I would suggest we are outnumbered as well as outgunned.

    For me personally though, there is a far simpler reason why I don’t take to the streets. I don’t resent boomers for living a little bit longer and this isn’t what is causing the pension crisis. In the media it is often suggested that pension funds are unsustainable because of increased life expectancy, this isn’t true. Longer Live’s are easy for actuary’s to correct for.

    The main problem is that boomers didn’t have enough kids. Since 1975, our fertility rate has been very low (though it is recovering). This means that the burden on that generation is being spread across fewer shoulders. I find it very hard to be critical of this decision to have fewer kids among boomers because I myself will be facing that decision soon and to be frank I can see where they were coming from.

    I can choose to just have one child and enjoy parenthood but not the burdens of a large family. This is unsustainable as a social model and the answer lies in the support of female and family friendly policies such as better childcare access, maternity leave and a general cultural shift that celebrates the contribution a mother and father make to society. After all her child will be paying for your care.

    In my view, blame won’t get us anywhere. My approach is to try and highlight generational bias and engage with people about those issues. Unless you scrap democracy, the only way that we can win this argument is through engagement and not through fighting. We are outnumbered and outgunned, its probably wise to sit round a negotiating table.

  3. John

    You’re right Tom, you can’t blame the boomers for not having kids. The boomers and the policy makers who have pandered to them for the last 30 years are most certainly to blame for the public sector pension crisis.

    In the 1980/90s analysts and forecasters started to warn western societies that if PS pension arrangements were not altered, the future burden on younger generation would be huge and unfair. Due to the number of baby boomers and their life expectancy.

    Some countries such as Holland did the sensible thing and made alterations to PS pensions years ago. Alteration options include, an increase in contributions and crucially a move to a funded pension system. Our governments (of both parties) did NOTHING, it stuck its head in the sand and waited for 30 years.

    Even though they knew unaffordable pension promises were being accrued, they did nothing. This wasn’t out of ignorance, it did nothing because the greedy baby boomers would have stamped their feet and used their huge voting block as blackmail. They’ve waited to make changes, just as the boomers are past, or nearly past the finishing line.

    Look at the reactions in the boomer press, when Governments suggest policy which means they have to share (a little) in the pain of the recession. Look at the grabbing hysterical reaction when it was announced that the bus pass may be means tested.

    Our Governments were weak, our baby boomer generation greedy. This unsustainable burden wasn’t a surpise or an accident Tom.

  4. Tom

    I would agree that policy makers and even the public knew that what they were doing was in many ways unsustainable but that fundamentally misses the point. In a democratic, modern society you still need to take the boomers, the press and the government with you if you are going to make any headway and so blame can’t be apart of that.

    In all western countries, pension reforms have always been pro-boomer and put a lock on accrued rights. This isn’t through a warped sense of justice but political necessity. The original post asked why younger generations don’t act. I would say because they know they can’t act alone.

    I COULD sit here and moan about the injustice of the demographic imbalance. But given that it is one that I myself am about to impose on the next generation, I don’t think I will. Its also simply not constructive. If policy reform has any element of retribution on boomers then it will fail.

    You can’t shame a generation into giving up their income and wealth.

  5. Anar Green

    Debt scam, education scam, and property scam. Even older people have fallen prey to these. But the usual disregard for youth, and systemic exclusion from electoral power, aggravate things for the precarity generation.
    I’d like to recommend that they wait to invest in the sure-to-boom funeral-parlour business, but that’ll give us another decade or two to fill before the yuppie generation checks out. In the mean time, the young have no vested interest in the system, and every reason to rip it apart.

  6. john

    Tom,

    Shame or greed for that matter can’t shift wealth between generations. Its shifted by legislation & policy change.The baby boomers have used their voting block to force policy change to take wealth from generations, both older and younger to them.

    The pivotal grab (from older generations) came in 1980 when the boomers were in their 20s/30s. During this year the state pension index link was broken, allowing low taxation for boomers at the expence of sentencing thousands of pensioners to poverty. The baby boomers treated their pensioner generation dispicably. (these were the WW2 vets, by the way)

    Now the boomers are reaching retirement, they are forcing policy changes to grab wealth from us. The starkest example is the reversal of the 1980 change (with a few extra bonuses), just when they are due to retire. The link was broken for them (as NI payers) and reestablished just as they stop paying this tax and start receiving the pensions. This isn’t coincidence Tom.

    Rather than ‘shaming’ them into giving wealth back, I’d be happy if they stopped taking more. They have only just started on our generation Tom. Social care on NI and a local income tax to replace council tax are the two remaining biggies.

  7. Liz

    As one of the hated baby boomers about whom you are bad mouthing on this blog, may I just say “how very dare you”!!
    Just speaking for myself (a woman of 61, wow can she still remember how to type!!), I have worked bloody hard for everything which I own. Modest house in a village probably soon to be used for social housing if your report is taken seriously. I have worked since I was 16, been a lone parent but still always worked. No, not in some banking, capitalist orientated job but in “making a difference” to the lives of adults with learning disabilities, enabling many to lead independent lives. I have also worked in drug and alcohol related housing.
    I certainly do not consider that I have had any priveledges and I have always taken responsibility for myself. I am now financially assisting my 25year old son to purchase a shared ownership property.
    One person, yes, but I have many friends who have lived similar lives.

  8. john

    The proportion of hardworkers/shirkers won’t change much between the generations. What has changed is policy, which has shifted wealth from other generations to yours.

    You sound like a council/NHS worker. This is your likely pension deal over most of your working life:

    Contribution rate 5%,
    Final Salary Scheme
    Retirement age 55-60

    Your generation (knowingly) didn’t contribute enough and were promised too much. As a result a worker starting your job will now get this deal:

    Contribution rate 9%
    Career Average Scheme
    Retirement Age 67

    When you were 30, the index state pension link was broken. This kept your NI contributions low, at the expense of WW2 pensioners. This link was kindly restablished for you, the very year you started drawing the state pension and stopped paying NI.

    It’s hard to argue that your generation hasn’t been privileged and greedy.

  9. Liz

    It is difficult not to work for local government if one wishes to teach adults with learning disabilities, however I left this employment as I disagreed so much with the politics in latter years and with the incredible amount of red tape.

    So, if you started a job and was told the pension contribution was a certain amount, you would voluntarilly pay more to be fair to future generations? I think not! No, I didn ‘t do the math – who does!!

    The proportion of shirkers has increased dramatically since the advent of a wide range of benefits – people are choosing not to take personal responsibility. Basic behaviourism teaches us that if you reward undesirable behaviour, it increases.

  10. Liz

    Hi John, 3 replies! Dear me I must be concerned!! Speaking personally, my pension is £700 per month, hardly a fortune.

    I find your view and tbhose of a lot of contributors on thbis site very prejudiced and really quite hurtful. If you were to single out any other demographic group of society and accuse them of selfishness and greed all hell would break loose. But. . . being old (and I don’t consider myself old but I guess you do) is deeply unfashionable. No left wing groups to fight our corner!!

    On balance, some things have been easier for our generation, full employment on leaving school, hbigher education grants, but other things more difficult. Expectation to work, the fact that only around 10% of our generation attended university, the length of time we had to save for a deposit on a home. Now there are welfare benefits (virtually unheard of when I left school), shared ownership schemes, 50% approx of young people arttending uni.

    Greed exists in all classes and generations; thne bankers have been greedy yes, also people who could wolrk and who have claimed benefits for years or deliberately had children to increase their rate of housing benefit. Seen rthat, worn the t-shirt (I worked in social housing too). For a charity!

    Let’s agree to differ eh!?

  11. john

    Don’t worry Liz there will be no executions.

    What will happen over the next 20 years is the production of factual damming reports which detail how despicably your generation treated its pensioner generations (during your NI contribution working lives) and how you quickly changed the rules just when your retirement was looming.

    These will surface more and more when the baby boomers begin to relinquish control of the media and positions of influence. The reports won’t be based on opinions or anecdotal statements like yours (or mine), they will be based on policy changes.

    Without wanting to repeat specifics mentioned above. Essentially these policy changes involve the movement of specific costs from the individual to the taxpayer and vice versa, at times which suited your generation.

    i.e For you (& your children) higher education costs were largely met by general taxation, not now.

    Whilst you were paying NI, social care costs were met by the individual, now your generation is clamouring for them to be paid via NI contributions.

    You’ve even managed to shift your bus travel costs to general taxation (whilst children pay). This presents a simple example of how things have changed in your generations favour.

    1980s Bus Fairs: Adults Full, Pensioners Half, Children 1/4

    2010 Bus Fairs: Adults Full, Children Half, Pensioners free

    Your generation has been greedy, but won’t be executed, just shamed a little, I expect.

  12. Liz

    Yeah but no but yeah but. . . . .

    You are not looking at the whole picture are you? You are just focussing on the areas that support your argument .

    The state pension is a scheme we (and your generation) paid into. It is choices and consequences.

    I am sorry, but the majority of people in my age group have not had it easy or been greedy. As I said before, greed exists across the age, class, sex, sexual orientation, religion (!) etc etc divides.

    Your view is prejudiced against a whole generation. We are individuals!! Some may have been greedy, just as some of your generation and some members of previous generations have been.

    You seem to have some resentment issues! I wonder how old you are, what your situation is and whether you consider your parents perhaps to be in this category??

    |Anyway, over and out!!

  13. john

    Liz,

    There will be a similar ratio of selfish:altruistic individuals (and acts) in all generations.

    Individual acts of greed are different to generational acts of greed. Generational acts of greed are committed via the ballot box and the resulting Government policy.

    This how generational greed worked (and is working)

    Prior to the 1979 general elective (you 30), the Conservative election team would have canvassed your generations opinions in order to form policies which would secure an elective victory.

    Feedback from your generation would have been that low taxation levels were important. The Cs would then have then tested opinion to see if breaking the state pension- index link (making WW2 pensioners poorer) was acceptable to your generation, to achieve this. We know the answer; the link was broken in 1980.

    Fast forward to the 2010 general election (you 60), again the political parties would have canvassed for your generations opinions.

    This time your feedback is that higher state pension are important and raising NI for workers is an acceptable way to achieve this. It happened.

    This is generational greed/fraud/robbery. Whether or not you completed a sponsored fun run in 1980 and raised £50 for a worthwhile charity, doesn’t change this.

  14. Liz

    Well John, I intended to disengage from this “discussion” but I am fascinated by your whole mindset here. Of course, I am familiar with the concept of collective responsibility and how this differs from individual responsibility but I fear that grouping people together in terms of age, colour, creed whatever rather than looking at them as individuals is a dangerous game. Look at history!!

    I still think your argument is fundamentally flawed: the Tories in 1979 would have been appealing to the whole voting population for support, not just my generation: so why did my parent’s generation go along with it? Lower taxation is always a vote winner.

    Personally (Oh that word again!!), I didn ‘t vote for them and was uninterested in pensions at the age of 29. I was unaware of what was happening as a lot of my generation were, I guess. There was no referendum asking people born between 1946-1960 to vote on this issue to their gain: had that been the case, I would be far more inclined to go along with your way of thinking. However, I do accept that it is the responsibility of each of us individually to keep up politically.

    This is the way any society works, give and take. From a family to a work team to an entire nation. I pay taxes which support people claiming benefit who are able to work.
    I totally disagree with that and numerous other policies which my tax is funding, but we don’t have total control over our lives and certainly not over government spending. The longer we live, the more we realise that very little in this world is “black and white”.

    Of course, having an index linked pension scheme will benefit your generation (I assume you are younger, I have been transparent enough to disclose my age). You will have the last laugh anyway, as while my peers and myself are kicking up daisies, you will still be enjoying (or enduring) your life.

  15. john

    Liz,

    At 29 years of age you should have been able to understand the simple concept that breaking the state pension-index link would gradually devalue your parent’s state pension and would keep your NI contributions low. Ignorance is no defence, but it is one your generation will use.

    It seems you want to gloss over the past, so here’s an example of generational fraud which is happening right now.

    – Baby boomers are now (or soon ) not liable to pay NI. BB pressure groups are now campaigning for social care costs to be funded by NI. There’s nothing wrong with this as a concept, but as ever with the greedy BBs , timing is everything.

    The timing means that throughout your NI premium years, your contributions weren’t high enough to offer social care costs cover for your pensioner generation. Now you are stopping paying the insurance premiums , you want contributions to go up to provide you with the cover. Essentially you didn’t pay for the social care costs of previous generations of pensioners, but you want younger generations to pay for this now.

    Do you now see how generational fraud works? , or would it help if I explained how BBs are campaigning for a local income tax to replace the council tax, just as they retire? Timing again.

    If you really think your generation doesn’t actively encourage this fraud. Look at what happens when things don’t go your way. You asked political parties to look at alternative ways of funding Social Care, some came back with the idea that a one of payment of c£9K could be paid on retirement. Your generation stamped it’s feet, threw the teddy bears out and shouted until this idea was quickly muted. The message was clear, ‘when we asked you to look at changes in social care funding , we really meant we want these costs to leap frog our generation and be passed down to another’

    What are your opinions on social care funding Liz, do you think your generation should get the cover without paying the premiums?

  16. Liz

    Get over yourself for Godsake! I find your views very bigoted.

    Of course I understand that simple concept and would have done at 29, but I was uninterested then, that was the point I was making. I do not lack intelligence!

    Yes, I believe people should pay for their own social care (I assume you mean elderly care) costs if they can afford it. I believe in taking personal responsibilty. It is a complicated issue though as people are living longer and not everyone requires care: neither of my grandmothers did.

    I was hoping to present an other side of this coin to enable you to maybe see that not everyone born between 1945 and 1960 is a greedy b…….. Obviously, that is not going to happen.

    I sign out now. Have a nice life!

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