Boomers – Confess!

Liz Emerson has the Baby Boomer generation in her cross-hairsIt's All About Us

I just missed being part of the Boomer generation. Born at the end of the 60s, my cohort, known as Generation X, missed the free-loving LSD parties of the 60s and early 70s. Instead, my childhood was over-shadowed by union disputes, the Falklands War, the threat of AIDS and Thatcher’s Britain, the mantra being: liberalise the city, make money and let the good times roll. Punk: out –, new romantics: in. State: out – personal responsibility: in.

I was too young to vote in the 1979 and 1983 elections. Instead, I watched the grown-ups around me vote with their feet. Fed up with union disputes, high taxation and a struggling economy, voters overwhelmingly heralded in a new order where risk was welcome and spend now, pay later credit spread through the high street. Welcome to the world of the consumer. Cheap package holidays abroad were also no longer out of reach. Spain:  in – Pontins: out. Welcome too to the world of leisure.

It was also the time of the greatest sell-off of national assets ever seen – British Airways, British Aerospace, British Gas, British Leyland, Jaguar, Rolls-Royce, British Steel, British Sugar, to name but a few, together with more than 2 million council homes. Whether government was right or wrong to privatise is not at issue. What is clear is that the majority of British voters supported this mass sell-off of the family silver with no regard for future generations’ rights or needs. Other countries chose a different route. Norway chose to protect its oil resources by creating a sovereign wealth fund, The Government Pension Fund of Norway, founded in 1990 and now valued at £4.182 trillion, which was specifically designed to share the cost of pension payments between Norwegians living then, living today and living in times to come.

So who bought the homes, the shares and the holidays whilst selling the silver? The Boomer Generation. Born mostly in the late 1950s and early 1960s, they were the first generation to truly break free of their parents. Having been overshadowed themselves by threats or nuclear wars and post-war austerity, no one was going to keep them down.

Wedded to the idea of perpetual growth, the Boomer generation have continued to feather their nests whilst passing the bill on to future generations, employing tools such as private finance initiatives which enable society to use now but pay later.

Fast forward to 2013 and Boomers are once again using their brawn as a cohort to safeguard their privileged position. But rather than accept that they have had some part to play in the effects of their historical actions, they are repositioning themselves as a victimless group who have paid their contributions and deserve their dues in retirement. Only this week Brian Appleyard wrote that Boomers should not be blamed for their “delusion” in believing in perpetual growth. Yet, no consideration seems to have been made to how their over-expectation of entitlement will affect their own children’s futures.

The poorest 20% of over-60s really do need state help, but the accusations of ageism for questioning the need to give the many more well-off imminent retirees their dues is used as a trope to divert attention away from intergenerational fairness discussions.

It is not the younger generations’ fault that Boomers have not saved enough for their retirement. It is not the younger generation’s fault that young people do not have the jobs needed to fund the financial irresponsibility of their parent’s generation. With the current pension liability currently standing at £7.1 trillion, there is no family silver left to sell. All we have left are our children’s futures – and they’re already mortgaged.

Posted on: 28 June, 2013

4 thoughts on “Boomers – Confess!

  1. Andrew

    You make a very good point when you talk about blame. Irrespective of whether Brian Appleyard is right, and for the record I think he is wrong (we live in a democracy, people voted for the obviously unsustainable low tax high spending governments and that is what they got), there is still a problem that needs a resolution. This is where the older generation’s self entitlement is most evident; despite an obvious crisis, they don’t think it is them who should make, or even share, the sacrifices required to solve it.

    The view is we did as we were told so we deserve what we were promised. No respsonsibility is taken for understanding the feasibility of what politicians promised them and no allowance is given for the simple fact that the politicians making the promises did so without any representation from Generations X, Y or Z who will be expected to come up with the goods.

    I think my generation, Generation Y, is very generous in that we are willing to share the burden of the recession with them but the older generation will not come to the table. They’ve torn up commitments to educate future generations and instead bequeath us with bills for their pensions, care and PFI that they know we cannot afford.

    This though is not the dirtiest secret of all. The big, dirty secret politicians don’t talk about is who benefitted from the drivers of the credit crunch. Irresponsible lending caused house prices to rise that government now artificially sustains now the free market mortgages are gone, sustaining equity that should have been wiped in 2008. They earned interest in their pension funds from the risky CDOs that the government underwrote and their generation more than any other took the salaries and bonuses from the boom years that were financed by debt. The dirty secret is they put money into the system through debt, paid the money to themselves and then left the government in the red whilst blaming bankers for simply servicing demand.

    Of course, taking responsibility for their actions is something else Generation Entitlement aren’t very good at!

  2. Andrew

    Another Andrew here, 1952 vintage.

    I have worked and saved all my life. My wife and I own our modest home outright, and since our son moved out it is has a spare bedroom; we also have some savings.

    As regards the former, we are not budging until we can no longer live independently; I would certainly not move out if my wife died and I don’t think she would if I died.

    As regards the latter: I was paying 15% on my mortgage at one point – and savers were getting interest to match – so I think the peanuts we are getting for interest on our savings are a more than adequate contribution to helping the next generation get on the ladder.

    I am public-sector and have seen my pensions contribution heavily increased – and ridiculous as it seems higher earners now pay not just more but a higher percentage – but the indexation which was part of the bargain cut back to CPI. I have no confidence that if my wife or I live long and inflation goes sky-high again some future government will not decide that honouring the indexation is “unaffordable” and cheat us of it.

    So, no, I don’t feel guilty. I have nothing to which I am not contractually, legally and morally entitled.

    And that includes my bus-pass. I have worked and lived all my life in London and paid fares, rates, community charge and now council tax for previous sixty-plussers to travel free. I never grudged it but it’s my turn now.

  3. Jenn (Vale)

    Hi Andrew (gen Y)
    Wow, you’ve bought this disinformation re Boomers wholesale.
    Your arguments are full of holes. As the second Andrew says boomers were on low incomes ( £12 /wk in 1971) mortgages were high interest, up to 15 % as he says at some points. I paid for my higher education myself, studying p/t. My husband & I worked long hrs . He still does 50 hrs p/wk for about £350. Who do you think created all the wealth by long hrs and hard work, and high taxes, over 30%.
    The govt are delaying payment of pensions to us, despite over 30 yrs NI contributions because I presume they have raided the pension funds to pay for their mismanagement. Gordon Brown sold the gold and then bought euros which apparently we made a loss out of.
    We have had the Irag & Afghanistan wars which have cost us billions. The boomer generation were the main ones who paid off the debt from the second world war, so don’t tell us we don’t know about paying for previous generations aberrations.
    I feel we have made nothing but sacrifices from our childhood- no CH, ice on the windows in the morning when we got up, to now- no TV, no Sky, no papers, no fancy mobile contract , no meals out,etc etc and saving and passing on handouts to our kids so they could have a mortgage. If we couldn’t pay we went without and saved up. Now we look after the older generation, in their 80’s and younger generation of grandchildren free, though I feel it is a privilege to do this. I have little time fro myself. I can’t see generation “Y” doing this when we get infirm, real sacrifice, isn’t something the younger generation really seem to understand. We had no subsidised childcare and our parents didn’t help with much. Well, 1 worn out carpet.
    Second hand goods and clothes have never been a problem to us, unlike generation ME, who seems to think they shouldn’t save or go without in any way. They are the ones who feel they should have all the entitlement and none of the responsibility.

    The real culprits in all of this though are the investment bankers, corporate business who don’t pay their taxes and politicians who have whittled away the nations assets, selling out our manufacturing industry and lately many of our other assets like land, farming, water and utility companies to foreign investors. Boomers are being made a scapegoat it seems to deflect the focus from the real culprits who have wasted or refused to pay up billions on what they really owe.

    A similar tactic was used in Germany , then the scapegoats were the Jews. Don’t buy into this hate the older generation stuff. Only a small percentage of boomers have had it all. Most of us have worked hard and saved hard and are being generous with our time and savings. Guess who volunteers the most.

  4. john

    ‘The govt are delaying payment of pensions to us, despite over 30 yrs NI contributions’

    This one made me chuckle Jenn, and shows how self obsessed Generation Entitlement is. 30 yrs wow!

    You’re likely to live well into 80s, and have contributed 30 years NI contributions. Your generation is now enforcing changes that expect younger workers to make c45 years of NI contributions.

    30 yrs!

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