Thursday, 2 September 2010

The state Will's in

I’m getting increasingly irritated by the recent self flagellation of the baby boomer middle classes. Francis Beckett (65 in May) started it with his What Did the Baby Boomers Ever Do For Us – How the Children of the Sixties Lived the Dream and Failed the Future, published in July. Since then a shedload more of them have been jumping on the bandwagon, with ex-Observer editor Will Hutton (60 in May) one of the latest leading the charge.

Hutton’s mea culpa has him plead ‘guilty as charged’ in a self-indulgent Observer piece toying with his angst at turning 60. ‘Having enjoyed a life of free love, free school meals, free universities, defined benefit pensions, mainly full employment and a 40-year-long housing boom, [the boomers] are bequeathing their children sky-high house prices, debts and shrivelled pensions,’ he writes. ‘A 60-year-old in 2010 is a very privileged and lucky human being – an object of resentment as much as admiration.’

Speak for yourself, Will.

Depending on where you draw the line, I might just qualify as a boomer, though I came of age in the 1970s rather than 1960s, just after the Labour government had told us ‘the party’s over’ and just before punk and the winter of discontent gave way to Thatcher. But apart from the free school meals, I don’t recognise too many of the privileges that Will seems to think we all shared. Precarious employment, a rented flat and no pension is how my share of the spoils stacks up.

Not that I’m complaining. I’m forever conscious of the fact that those of us fortunate enough to have grown up in the west, in the latter half of the 20th century, got a damn good deal historically.

What I object to is this idea of generational privilege. At most 10 per cent benefited from free university education. And only those who were able to buy at the right time in the right places benefited from the property boom. As for full employment, try telling that to anyone who had the experience of looking for work in the old industrial areas at any time from about 1974 onwards.

It’s not a generational thing but, as ever, a class one. So, please, just because you’re one of the minority of baby boomers who went to university, made a fortune from property inflation and got gold-plated pensions, don’t keep talking about everyone else of the same age group as if they shared in the same privileges. Or as if they did nothing to try to make things fairer.

1 comment:

Pete May said...

Good point. Took me until I was 44 to buy a house in 2004... and the state of freelance writing these days means I'm earning less than when I was 25...