Social Democracy is dead but not for the Golden Generation…

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Don`t let me hear you say that life is taking you nowhere…Golden Years

I recently spent the day at a surprise birthday party held in honour of my partners ninety- year old Aunt. Travelling to the venue we listened to the depressing news concerning UK housing. It was reported that millions of people are struggling to cover their rents/mortgages, an estimated one million reliant on short term loans each month. This issue weighed heavily on my mind during a discussion at the party with a retired Head-teacher who said to me:

“I belong to the golden generation we had it all, we missed the war but drew all of the massive benefits from the Keynesian/Beveridge post war settlement. Meaning a grant aided education culminating in guaranteed employment post graduation. When I was a young teacher there were job adverts everywhere, pinned on the staffroom notice board pleading with you to leave your current job and go to another. I was of course able to take up my first post without debt, the very thought of having a debt was anathema to my generation. Housing was available with excellent local authority stock to choose and if you didn’t want to go into a council house then mortgage`s were an option and easily obtained because of your professional standing. My generation experienced the liberalisation of the 1960s, the end of deference, the freeing up of society a huge social and cultural shift. We had it all and now in retirement we have full pensions, live in lovely homes that we own outright, we are indeed the golden generation…”

This commentary told me nothing that I did not know already though I was aware that this individual’s economic position brought him better than average benefits and it was interesting to hear directly from a representative of his generation. Reading these comments it appears he was bragging but he wasn’t. My partner who was in earshot of this commentary felt “he was thanking God aloud for the great life that he has had, he was quiet emotional about it, he was having a moment of clarity about his life an objective reflection and had to express how lucky he has been to be born into that particular window of time/history.”

Picking through the political news at the start of this year we see very difficult times ahead for working people and one looks enviously at the position of the golden generation. For example the government decision to raise the minimum earnings level for automatically enrolling workers into a pension scheme. From this April it will go up by a whopping 16.5% — to £9,440 from £8,105. That will leave out an estimated 420,000 workers who would otherwise be enrolled and therefore eligible for the minimum employer contributions. The Labour Research Department points out that this scheme is designed to make the tax system understandable but will actually adversely impact on many low earners in the UK, especially women. The increase in part-time employment sheds light on further structural difficulties in the economy, as redundancies appear to be a common feature on the economic landscape: The Unite general union said it was bitterly disappointed over plans by British Airways (BA) to cut 400 senior cabin crew positions. The airline has started a 90-day consultation period with the first of the cuts on both long- and short-haul routes expected to take effect next March.

Given the economic situation it seems odd that the Labour Research Department can report a drop in the unemployed figures, Unemployment is down on both counts but the good news is not expected to last into 2013. Under the Labour Force Survey count, unemployment fell by 82,000 to 2.51 million in the three-month period ending October. A drop understood by anyone unfortunate enough to find themselves signing on for benefits at the moment. Your average job centre is about as welcoming as a nineteenth century workhouse, the regime has been made deliberately stressful for recipients of state benefit, a hitherto unmentioned fact that deserves greater attention. And there must be many people in the UK who are eligible for benefit (actively seeking work) and find themselves dependant on loved ones. Although the excellent Labour Research Department point out that jobless figures amongst women are nearly up to 544,000.

Anyone in the UK responsible for a household budget (a role often occupied by women, which make the figure above all the more worrying) will be aware of the shocking rise in food and essential goods. Increases in the price of food are set to rise further due to bad harvest conditions.  As Will Self reminded us on radio 4 recently many of Britain`s poor are turning to food charities to supplement weekly food budgets. Such information makes the recent House of Commons debate “to place a 1% cap on benefit upgrading over the next three years that means a real term cut on the majority of working age benefits and tax credits”  all the more shameful and potentially tragic.

It now seems reasonable for `Newsnight` to describe the unemployed as `Skivers`, an observation totally removed from objective fact, those on benefit are in this position because of a structural imbalance in the economy, not because they wish to be subjected to the indignity that is the UK benefits system. It is interesting how the media manufacture consent for a cruel government line that will hurt many.

It was of course much different for the golden generation but we need to remember that the benefits this generation experienced were fought for and won through struggle. A point worth remembering as social democracy slips away and we sleep walk back to the nineteenth century.

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