I was listening to the radio the other day and caught part of a documentary about how baby boomers had everything so good and the youth of today will probably come to riot in a few years time as they support said baby boomers in their retirements but get nothing in return.
The main thrust of the programme seemed to be that while baby boomers had ‘free’ higher education, today’s youth are being laden with debts. This programme was inspired by the Tory MP David Willetts, who certainly looks like a baby boomer himself. He claims that people aged between 45 and 65 (I am in the lower half, born in the late 50s) are the most spoilt generation in British history, and refers to huge pensions and pots of money built up from housing booms.
Well, the likes of a Tory MP might have been spoilt, but I would suggest that anyone working or lower middle class born before the 1970s was considerably disadvantaged in comparison with these poor, beleaguered youth of today.
Can such as Willetts actually remember how things were in the sixties for most ‘ordinary’ people? Perhaps he never had any illness for which there was little effective treatment. Perhaps his home was always warm – he didn’t have chilblains all over his feet and hands going blue from the cold. He, one assumes, had an actual bathroom, and a phone, and a car. The kind of life I experienced in the sixties and seventies would be considered deprived these days. No responsible parent would dare to keep their (sick) child in a house with a temperature of around 40 degrees F. A car is considered essential and no one can cope without a mobile phone and yet in my family it was the mid-eighties before any of us even had a land line.
This ‘spoiled’ baby boomer was refused permission by her parents to go to college for financial reasons despite being top of her year at school, never got on the property ladder and still rents, has still not lived in a house with central heating or double glazing (although not too bothered about that!), had no choice but to take brain dead jobs that led to depression, didn’t have a car until she was 40, cycled (sometimes miles) to work in all weathers and often in poor states of health for over 30 years and only last year, finally, obtained her degree with the Open University.
I watch my niece and nephew and all the other ‘youth of today’ enjoying warm, centrally heated homes, far better medical treatment, endless technology at their fingertips, their almost every material wish granted, parent-chauffeur car rides given to wherever they desire, education to at least college level considered a right and university or some other vocational education highly likely and I wonder whether Willetts is actually from the same planet as I am.
Let’s talk about the ‘free’ higher education. Such education was only free to a tiny percentage. Most people of my age did not go to university. My parents simply couldn’t afford for me to be at college – they did not receive child benefit for the first child, and as soon as I left school the first child became my brother. Had it been even conceivable for me to go to university I might have received a grant, but such grants did not cover the full costs. In my recollection, only the better off, indeed much better off, were able to send their children to universities. A tiny few of the poor received scholarships and we hear about many of them today, but no such glorious words were ever uttered at my secondary modern school. That was for the grammar schools, and once you were deposited in the secondary school you became a second class citizen.
This whole discussion is yet another attempt to introduce a scapegoat. Kids today have different problems. I wouldn’t exchange my childhood for theirs because despite the deprivation and struggle that is the childhood I remember, mine was more free than theirs, but I do resent, inordinately, the implication that ‘we never had it so good’. David Willetts is living in never-never land.