An insightful and inciting article in The Times by economics correspondent Anatoly Kaletsky poses a challenging question for us all in the years ahead. He rightly points out that the current difficult economic crisis is nothing compared to the full cost we will all eventually have to pay for the under-funded pensioners and longer lives of the Baby Boomer generation.
It’s an extended view of the future economic outlook which few people have seriously contemplated. Kaletsky suggests that this will lead to significant conflict between generations of the old and the young, while society struggles to fund the dramatically increased cost of health care for the elderly at the expense of paying for education for the young.
If the figures quoted in the article are correct, the future cost of providing for our ageing population will be six times the amount which has been spent bailing the banks out of the recent credit crunch.
It is at this point that the very good economic analysis starts to deteriorate into more provocative and divisive solutions. Kaletsky’s suggested “rational solution” (an echo of the ‘final solution’) is for Government to cut back on pensions, healthcare and long-term care.
I would agree that the Government’s resources need to be focused on only supporting those in greatest need, which means that those people who have saved and bought their own homes will need to cash them in to pay for their own future healthcare. Kaletsky’s proposition is that the Baby Boomer generation, who have had a feather-bedded life so far will not do this voluntarily. In a later life demonstration of grey power, they will vote for self-interest at the expense of the younger generation.
What I think he is overlooking is that the younger generation are the children and grand-children of the Baby Boomers. I believe these family ties still bind the generations together, especially in adversity.
Panicked by the enormity of the funding problem ahead, certainly our politicians have failed us so far by burying their heads in the sand rather than facing the task.
Lack of leadership on this issue could mean the “glass half empty” conclusions of Kaletsky’s article could become reality:-
Tensions between young and old in terms of tax and spending.
A crystallised view of the elderly as a burden on society.
Ever more rationed health and social care services.
Life prolonging drugs and treatments denied as an NHS free service. (This has already started).
Retirement age being extended to 70 and beyond.
The right to vote being denied to old people over the age of 75. (Kaletsky’s suggestion).
Widespread assisted suicide encouraged with free bus passes to Swiss clinics.
Or just continue with the current system which already includes social isolation and neglect.
Fortunately there is a “glass half full” happier alternative we could follow which has a less cynical view of Baby Boomers:-
They could release the unearned equity in their houses to buy themselves new life styles in later life.
More active and socially involved lives could lead to healthier lifestyles and lower demand on health services.
Older people would be seen to be socially valuable if there were more organized ways for them to give back to society.
The Government could pay higher state pensions to those who complete two years of part-time voluntary service.