It ain’t just in Britain, lady.
Anyway, these children have had an easy life: they haven’t had to live through any world wars or worry about the Cold War. They have televisions in their carpeted bedrooms and beer in the fridge, they go on holiday to Ibiza and almost half now go to university. All they seem to care about is their next pair of trainers.
Except that, when I talked to a group of them, their lives didn’t seem that easy. Compared with the older generation swanning around on their cruises, they seemed anxious, exhausted and alienated. A few months later, the think tank Reform took up the term the iPod generation, labelling them insecure, pressurised, overtaxed and debt-ridden.
Now the pensions crisis has made it even more clear. To be young in Britain is not a carefree experience. The real divide in this country is no longer between toffs and council estate lads, the public sector versus the private sector, or middle-class culture compared with the benefits culture. The big gap now is between the old and the young. David Willetts, in a speech to the think tank Policy Exchange yesterday, called it, “the clash of the generations”.
Tom Utley wrote on these pages a fortnight ago about the joys of being middle-aged. If – like Mr Utley, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown – you were born in the 1950s, you have had a pretty good deal. Not only could you grow your hair long and wear flares without being laughed at, but also, if you were bright and worked hard, you were entitled to a free university education and easy access to the property market, and you benefited from the housing boom and unprecedented medical advances. At least you knew what a final salary pension was.
Yeah, seriously. Bloody baby-boomers. I’m serious, they cheese me off.
But for the rest of us, born after 1965, life is not so rosy. We are the ones who are going to have to pick up the bill for Mr Blair’s and Mr Brown’s increasingly expensive welfare state. The Chancellor might try to hoodwink us with his creative accounting and private finance initiatives, but he is saddling the next generation with a huge bill to pay for all those new hospitals, schools, the nuclear power stations they are finally proposing and the road-building programmes they keep delaying.
And it is this generation that is going to have to cope with the pensions crisis. First of all, the Chancellor has hired another 700,000 public sector workers, each of whom has been promised a generous final salary public sector pension. But worse than that, the population is getting older. Today, every 100 workers are supporting 27 pensioners aged over 65. By 2060, there will be 48 per 100. The Government may also be forcing us to save much more for our own retirement. So we will be paying twice over – generous pensions for our parents and huge contributions to our own funds.
The thirtysomethings are just about coping by closing their eyes to the future and working as hard as they can, while agonising that they are not spending enough time with their children. The Government’s only answer to this is for Tessa Jowell, another fiftysomething, to tell men to do more housework and for the Treasury to suggest that women need to breed to provide more workers.
But the generation now in their twenties are going to suffer even more. They are called the selfish generation, but in fact research shows that they give more to charity and are more concerned about the environment than any other age group. They must look at their elders and wonder who really are the selfish ones.
Yeah! And a point made by Mark Steyn some weeks ago.
Last week, I went to a party for a friend who is 28 to celebrate the fact that she had finally paid off her student loan. She is now saving for a fifth of a share in a house in Hackney. She can’t even consider a pension. At a talk I gave at Cambridge University last week, the majority of students wanted to go into the City or become solicitors or accountants “to make money”. If they don’t start immediately, they will never scramble on to the housing ladder.
This generation is so debt-ridden that they have to live at home after university. It is not because they have been mollycoddled and want their washing done, it is because they can’t afford anything else.
If this point is different in this country, it’s only because we have all those cheap states. Which doesn’t help me much.
They are becoming obese because they have been fed a diet of Turkey Twizzlers and the school playing fields have been sold off, yet they are now being told that, if their ailments are self-inflicted, they may not get treatment on the NHS.
They must be adding up the figures. A university education will leave them more than £20,000 in debt. The average house price is £182,000. A wedding will set them back an average £24,000. If they want children, that could cost them £150,000 per child. On top of that, they will be paying taxes for both their children’s education and their parents’ increasingly sophisticated and expensive healthcare.
It is easy to understand why they binge drink. Wouldn’t you if you were permanently in the red from the age of 18 and you were likely to be working until your seventies to pay off your debts?
Not just binge drink. Binge drink with dolphins!