Erikka Askeland: Not so cosy now for the baby-boomers
TO SET the record straight, I love people of my parent’s generation. Some I count as good friends while others, indeed, are my parents.
But I discovered something cold and unmoving at the core of my being when it emerged that they were going to be hit by a “granny tax”. And that cold thing whispered to me along the length of my spine: “Serves them right”.
Sounds vindictive, doesn’t it? But, really, it has nothing to do with the bumper sticker my dad and step-mum had on their caravan that said “We are spending our children’s inheritance.” This made them laugh mirthfully, and quite regularly, while we, the snotty-nosed youngsters, felt the chill of the dawning realisation that we might have to look for alternative ways of funding university.
Instead, it is more because my parents’ generation, the baby-boomers of the western world, has been the luckiest on the history of the planet.
But before I elaborate on this, I wish to clarify what the “granny” evoked by the nickname given to the freeze on tax-free income for the over-65s is not. These grannies are not wrapped in rugs, silvered-hair buns in whisps and hunched over a steaming cup of thin gruel for warmth. Rather, a number of them retired ten years ago in order so they could spend more time taking Spanish holidays.
They have internet accounts, final salary pensions and houses that are worth 40 times what they paid for them in 1970. If they went to university, it was free. Others were able to enter a career “for life” once they left school, which I don’t have to point out, like the assured pension pot, is an increasingly quaint notion. Their parents fought in the wars, while these nascent pensioners reaped the hard won benefits of the NHS, discovered sex and rock and roll, and were the most entitled group of people the world has ever seen.
They were lucky. And yet it seems unfair that those turning 64 in April will have to pay more, particularly after they got ideas about what retirement would be like, having seen their slightly older brothers and sisters take out another equity release on their property to fund six months in Florida. But they have worked hard these last 40 years and saved, only to have their fine woollen rug pulled out from under them. That their children will have to work longer and will only be able to start saving once they pay off their student loans might yet humble their grumbles.
It’s not their fault that the state can no longer be the firm but comfortable mattress it once was, which allowed us all to live with a certain modicum of dignity, but which will now become harder and more careworn.
Changes in the tax system never seem fair. But it is worth pointing out that, so far, this group has not had to bear much of the brunt of the austerity measures imposed on other beneficiaries of the state, whether it is parents, students or the disabled. The people perhaps we should feel most aggrieved for are the smokers. As George Osborne pointed out when he delivered his Budget speech, no-one can argue against taxing the stupidity of the louche tobacco fiend.
I paraphrase, of course, but he should probably do something about that sneery, self-satisfied tone that has a tendency to creep into his voice. Smokers, and I am one, are the least likely be too much of a burden on the state pension while still having the privilege of paying for it with another 37p on a packet of 20. Even worse, I can no longer expect my parents to smuggle fags back from Spain, because they can no longer afford to go three times a year.
What is most breathtaking about this raid on the baby-boomers is the fact they have been targeted at all. Not because they are worse off than the rest of the population, but it is the over-60s that are most likely to vote Tory.
It underlines to me that, having been burdened with the biggest peace-time deficit in our history, we are in the mire, and the government is taking hard measures that even threatens the loyalty of its core voters.
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