Saturday’s Daily Telegraph contains a fascinating piece on the politics of demography. Here is the link.
Neil O’Brien, writing in The Daily Telegraph on Saturday suggests grey power is growing in the UK. He points to the absurdity of paying the winter fuel payment to all pensioners whether rich or poor and the equal absurdity of free pensioner TV licences and free pensioner bus passes. Apparently, the EU is insisting the UK government pays the winter fuel payment to UK pensioners living abroad, whether living in Alaska or the Costa del Sol! Iain Duncan Smith is trying to find a way of negating this EU stupidity.
I have no idea why I am sent a winter fuel payment every winter simply because I am over 60 years of age. it is always a nice surprise and pays for the best part of two dozen bottles of wine – well able to fend off the winter chills for a few weeks! I don’t do buses but have absolutely no idea why I should be allowed to travel free if I did. However, the Conservative Party has pledged to maintain these absurdities at a considerable cost to the Treasury. I don’t know why but I do think it is daft. This is particularly relevant in the face of the demographic time bomb we all face with people living longer and having rising expectations of the quality of their lifestyle. At the same time we face a reducing work force and growing groups of young and old people posing an expanding benefit cost on a shrinking tax base.
At the other end of the age spectrum, school leavers are faced with huge levels of debt if they are to enjoy a university education and will spend half their working life paying it off and with increasing uncertainty about securing a job at the end of their degree course.
O’Brien suggests cynically that politicians place a greater value on the views of older people who tend to vote rather more regularly than younger citizens, many of whom tend not to bother. Will this change if youngsters realise they are losing out to grey power? Will political parties try to broaden their base with policies that appeal to young voters? Will they be able to afford it? Will young citizens have confidence in the democratic process to ensure their voice is heard or will they look to other ways of making their presence felt?
Will any political party be brave enough to change the mentality of expectation and to promote greater community and self-help as the cost of supporting a growing elderly population escalates to non-affordable levels?