I heard a brilliant phrase last week that sums up where Britain has got it so wrong. It was from a friend who was speaking to a woman from Denmark.
During a conversation about standards of living, she said: “In Denmark it is very hard to be very rich. But equally, it is almost impossible to be poor”.
In a recent speech the Bishop of London, Rev Richard Chartres, said he believes that baby boomers are the `lucky generation’ and that it is time for them to take a smaller share of government spending. That may in part be true. But we must not forget that there are plenty of pensioners of the ‘baby boom’ generation who do not have it all. In fact they have very little. They don’t own their own home or have access to a nice little nest egg or comfortable private pension.
I suppose the danger of Britain hitting hard times is that it stokes anger and resentment, especially among those at the bottom of the pecking order. Hence why we saw G8 protests yesterday in London and many of us still have a fresh memory of the shocking riots back in August 2011. But surely it is wrong to point the finger of blame purely at all older people despite them losing out less in the cutbacks and having a higher rate of home ownership. It’s also true that many were of working age when there were jobs for life, or at least full employment. And some did extraordinarily well and are reaping the rewards in retirement.
Inequality – the festering wound
One of the biggest tragedies of today is the weeping wound of inequality: inequality of wealth and opportunity. In 2013 it is far harder to leapfrog out of poverty compared to the past and much of that is down to the past 20 years of Labour and now the Coalition failing to address the problem. They were too content to see the rich become super rich. It’s their friends after all. But younger people, from poorer backgrounds, have little hope of achieving the same lifestyle as their grandparents, thanks to a lack of opportunities. That’s partly why we had the riots in 2011. And I won’t be surprised if sadly they return to our streets in the coming years.
Having swingeing cutbacks dictated by 10 Downing Street’s clique of Old Etonians which disproportionately affect the youngest and poorest in society will only serve to galvanise the fury of the ‘lost generation’.
As the gap between rich and poor widens, so will that sense of hopelessness among those hardest hit, leading to more crime and less social cohesion. And it is social cohesion and a narrower gap between rich and poor that makes countries like Denmark, Sweden and Netherlands more civilised, less aggressive countries.
Private wealth, Public squalor
The real scandal is not that older people have done so well, but that those with the most seem to care the least about the future of younger people. Better social mobility helps, but social mobility only allows the few to jump out of poverty. What about the rest? Leave them in squalor?
So are the baby boomers guilty of having it all? I don’t think so, as long as those who are enjoying a comfortable retirement appreciate their good fortune and have the decency to realise others are not so lucky. This is not a time for cold hearts. And remember it’s the bankers and the rich who hoard their wealth who are ultimately responsible for the mess we are in today. Banker bashing and growing tension in society will not stop until there is a more level playing field.
A fairer approach
As long as we continue allowing the rich to get richer at the expense of the poor, with little compassion or action being taken, this country could become a far less happy place to live.
We have a simple choice in the UK. We either go for the American and increasingly Russian/Indian model of the fewest having the most whilst the majority can go stuff themselves, or we can learn lessons from our nearest cousins across the North Sea.
A more Scandinavian approach, with European social justice at its core, will benefit us all in the long run and help bring out the best in Britain.
- Take less, bishop tells baby boomers (telegraph.co.uk)
- The UK has just had one lost decade, and is about to enter a second (telegraph.co.uk)