IF Vox Pop: Will the state look after me when I’m old?

IF Vox Pop is a series of pieces expressing personal perspectives on the issues we raise. Here Ruby Joseph, IF volunteer and first-year A-level candidate, describes how the dice are loaded against her generationIF_Blog_Vox_Pop_Retro_Mic_logo_revised

The term “old” could be interpreted in varying ways depending on who you ask. For most under 16s, 60 is seen as ancient, but 60 is now closer to “middle aged” than we think. Over the past 10 years the government has clearly been very concerned to please the elderly, but when it’s my turn to throw in the towel, will I be treated the same way?

We in Britain live in a welfare state; this is defined by the Collins Dictionary as “a system in which the government undertakes the chief responsibility for providing for the social and economic security of its population, usually through unemployment insurance, old-age pensions, and other social-security measures.” But due to the increasing longevity of Britain’s population and a higher ratio of elderly to young population, the government is struggling to pay for this social and economic security.

It’s all down to the baby boomers. The main reason for the dramatic difference in the size of different age cohorts is the 1945 to early 1960s baby boom. After the end of the Second World War, there was an extremely high birth rate, perhaps due to husbands returning home to their wives after winning the war. There was then another peak in the early 1960s. However, due to reasons such as more women choosing a career over raising a family, and a change in the ideal that  a woman’s role was to be at home looking after the children, the birth rate has decreased. So now we see the generation of the late 1940s baby boom becoming dependent on a working generation that are fewer in number.

Hitting youth hardest

It is a fact that we today accept that each generation’s taxes are used to fund pensions and health care for the elderly. In return, in principle the next generation will provide the same services for them. However, as we have come to realise, there is now a disproportionate number of old to young people. Current government statistics show that there are roughly 10 million people in the UK who are aged 65 and over. This number is due to almost double to 19 million by 2050. By this date, one in four will be over 65. That implies extra costs in pensions, social care and health spending.

This money is going to have to come from somewhere, and who better than the young hopefuls freshly emerged from university to take it from? As our life expectancy continues to increase  – rising from 81.3 to 82.3 for women between 2004 and 2010 alone – there are now even more pensioners needing money to live off. In order to provide them with this money, our government will almost certainly have  to increase tax.

The lives of university graduates will certainly become that much harder. With income tax at 20%, national insurance at 12% and tuition fees and loan repayments at 9%, the under 30s are being hit harder than ever. Most of a student’s working life after university will be spent paying off loans.

Democratic deficit

The last general election statistics showed us that only 44% of 18–24 year olds turned out to vote and a much higher number of 65+ voted, at 76%. This clearly shows us that more of the older generation voted, and this directly reflects the government’s recent decisions. The young are statistically outnumbered by the old, so have less voting power – but it does not help if they are reluctant to vote in the first place. We have to get out, vote and get our voices heard. But then again, I can’t. At 16 I am entitled to join the armed forces, get married (with my parents consent) and pay taxes, yet I have absolutely no say in my future.

In 2005 Labour campaigned to put classrooms at the top of the political agenda with Tony Blair’s top priority being “Education, education, education”. Just 8 years on, these words are faint echoes of the past, as we have witnessed the Liberal Democrats going back on their word about tuition fees. Since 2012, universities in England can now charge tuition fees of up to £9,000 per year. The government is appearing generous by stating that we don’t have to pay anything back until we earn more than £21,000 a year and the whole debt will be written off after 30 years. Yet the fact is, not all can afford the risk of taking on the debt.

We’ll be on our own

Ultimately it’s a numbers game. In summary, there are too few of us to pay for the ever-increasing liabilities of older generations.

And I can’t see a solution coming from current politicians: their main objectives seem to only be to stay in power. If this means appealing to the demographic who vote most, their policies will reflect that. The UK is currently in £1 trillion of debt and this will continue to increase unless something very significant is done. My generation will have to accept higher taxes and lower spending in order to pay off the borrowing of the past 20 years. In conclusion, I believe the state will not look after me when I’m old.  The only solution I see for myself is to start saving now.