Sunday, 8 April 2018

Confession - I Don't Like Pensioners

Morning - a surprisingly early Rabbit this Sunday, hope you're all awake to read it.

Being the right age to myself remember being a 'younger person' fairly vividly, I'm aware of the perpetual demonisation of the young which is part of our society and has been for as long as I can remember. The narrative goes something like:- the youth of today are the worst ever, they're all thieves, louts and habitual drugtakers who go round pinching car stereos to feed their crack or smack habit. They're all stupid and lack respect, particularly for 'their elders' (who of course are 'entitled' to automatic and unearned respect for, er, reasons?). When GCSE results go up, it's because the tests are easier - when they don't, this is offered as 'proof' of their collective idiocy.

In short, young people can't win and I feel sorry for them.

The reverse thesis of this is applied to pensioners and the elderly, who of course did nothing more edgy and contentious than bake cookies and sit round a fire attentively listening to war stories when they were younger. If you've been led to believe that mods, rockers, hippies, skinheads and punks were all significant movements of youth who 'had their moments' then think again, as apparently these things never happened. Invented in 1994, 'the teenager' and his/her cousin 'the young adult' have been terrorising our streets for two decades now, much to the chagrin of those who remember when there was no crime, everyone doffed their cap when required and nobody swore.

There are a series of flawed assumptions at the centre of this 'old = good, young = bad' view of the world and it's worth tackling them individually. One misplaced assertion is that pensioners have 'paid into the system all their lives' and are therefore entitled to 'dignity in old age' as a result. The first thing worth pointing out is that the State pension, rather than representing the collection of something you have already paid in, is actually a ponzi scheme in which people currently of working age fund the ongoing pensions of existing claimants. There was no generation of 'noble contributors' who agreed to pay something in exchange for nothing and we shouldn't pretend that there was.

Even taken at face value, this concept of 'paying into the system all their lives' doesn't stand up to scrutiny. Many will have paid in and/or taken out intermittently and, given that welfare has been a valid career option for as long as I can remember, there will be current pensioners who never or hardly worked at all, taking advantage of quite literal 'cradle to grave' provision. The 'baby boomer' generation had free university education, grammar schools and could afford to buy their own homes in significant numbers to name but three advantages those in their 20s and 30s will not have. Then there's the future of the State pension itself, so it's worth asking...who's subsidising who here?

Next we have the depiction of the older generation as wise old sages who have 'been around the block' and should be bowed to on account of their superior life experience. Well, based on my slightly inferior life experience there is no correlation between age and wisdom - in fact it's a bit like the analysis of the cricket player who hasn't played 42 Test Matches, but the same match 42 times. Time spent on the planet is only as good as what is learned in that time, the ability to analyse one's successes and failures, rationalise and then learn the requisite lessons from them. People of all ages and generations have varying capacities for this, from quite a lot to some to absolutely none.

Perhaps the most unpleasant 'word association game' I see played with regard to older people is that with 'war heroes', military service etc. Now I grew up at a time when most of pensionable age would certainly have been around during the Blitz and World War Two, and it's certain that a great many of them fought in the conflict between 1939-45. However, someone who was 18 in 1945 would be 90 now and so nearly all of those who fought the Nazis have sadly left us (RIP). I don't begrudge a former WW2 soldier anything that they might get in acknowledgement of their efforts, but noted the anomaly of the shocking treatment of Nepalese Gurkhas by the British State over many years.

I remember a particularly cantankerous old man telling me that I should listen to him, mainly because he'd been in the army 'defending this country' before I was born. I asked him to name some of the places he'd fought in and the ex-soldier promptly rattled off a list (Suez was one of them). Look, none of the conflicts that the Uk has involved itself in since 1945 have been about 'defending this country' at all. Our 'Ministry of Defence' has actually become a Ministry of War, with young men signing up because there were parts of 'the life' that appealed to them or employment prospects were limited where they lived. I'm not knocking anyone for making that choice, but it's not 'heroic' either.

Another big green tick in the box for our elders is (apparently) that they tend to vote in higher numbers than pretty much anyone else and 'take part in the democratic process', whatever that means. Now this has less to do with pensioners themselves and is really a continuation of the dichotomy that voting = good and not voting = bad, or probably the best I've heard on that theme:- "if you don't vote then you lose your right to complain about what the government does" (so if you exercise a freedom not to vote you therefore lose your freedom to hold an opinion about 'the issues' - lovely). It's true that pensioners do turn out for elections in disproportionate volume, but it's also worth asking why.

There's an important statistic which goes a long way towards providing an answer - pensioners are the recipients of more than half of all welfare payments. This is when you add up the State pension plus all the other benefits that they're eligible for, but begs the question...if you're in receipt of so much 'free stuff' are you more or less likely than the average person to go out and vote for more 'free stuff', or at least for the retention of what you already have? Wealthy pensioners (some of whom live abroad FFS!!) remain in receipt of such perks as TV licenses, winter fuel payments and bus passes, and to suggest revisiting that with a view to taking some of it away would be political suicide.

Politicians know this, and so frequently gerrymander 'the grey vote', usually at the expense of younger people.

As long as we live in a representative and universal suffrage democracy, I suspect this problem will continue - with the campaign to reduce the voting age to 16 meeting major resistance (I actually think age is the wrong end from which to be looking at the question, but support changes that would mean some 16 year olds would get the vote, while some 61 year olds would lose it) it will always be politically advantageous to demonise and caricature the young, while depicting every last member of an 'older generation' as some 'hero next door', who fought off foreign invaders and continuously contributed to our society for over half a century, therefore justifying certain entitlements.

None of them were shirkers, lawbreakers or less than perfect in any way, apparently.

It's another problem that I suspect Sortition would provide a better response to than the representative system could ever dream of. Alas, that won't be happening in my lifetime.

Anyway, thanks for reading that and I appreciate the subject matter may be considered somewhat 'edgy' - will leave you with some music and catch you next time.

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