Harriet Walker: Young <i>vs</i> old: this could turn nasty

Friday 30 July 2010 00:00

Reason to pillory the Baby Boomers number 6,436: they're now basically invincible. I can't see any other conclusion to draw from the Government's plans to scrap the default retirement age of 65, which are set to turn a whole generation into perennial interns and jobseekers.

We whippersnappers have been patiently waiting out our work experience, our part-time waitressing and the dole queues in the knowledge that the oldies would at some point shuffle off their vocational coils and leave a neat opening for someone younger, more dynamic and, well, much cheaper.

I never really got the chance to rebel against my parents (or rather, I was too scared to) – but the recession has brought with it some of the most virulently ageist feeling seen for quite some time. It's reminiscent of the post-feminism backlash in the 1980s: suddenly it's OK to resent anyone over 50, because they got us into this mess. The Boomers have taken the role of lackadaisical old sot, while us Generation Y-ers scurry round, trying to prop up the creaking timbers of their regime for fear that it will fall on our own heads.

These old buggers invested in all the cheap property and we pay through the nose to live in damp, one-room bedsits; they took the good education for free and let it crumble for us; they've driven and smoked and centrally heated our planet into a fuggy timebomb, while we desperately pretend recycling and carbon off-setting is cool and fun; they're all getting flu and dying on NHS time and money, and who's left to mop up the sick? Muggins here, a twentysomething young professional with no savings, no mortgage, no pension and, now, no career development plan.

I've never wanted to join the cries of "Not on my taxes!" But right now, those who need help are the 926,000 under-25s who are unemployed. A certain demographic voted for thumping great tax cuts in the 1980s and early 1990s and did very well for themselves; then we grew up and, like a bunch of softies, voted in a Government who cared about the elderly and looked out for their interests. So perhaps they should work and pay tax for as long as possible, if only to support us.

No doubt the move will prompt an outcry from those who had great plans for their hanging baskets, calligraphy and bridge-playing skills, and will now have to spend more long years pushing pens and crossing Ts. But it's a choice open to them – some will stay on, some will go on interminable cruises with couples called Mary and Bill. And the rest of us will have missed the boat.

We dynamic young hipsters are getting older and less marketable by the minute. Down the discotheque, you can hear the joints creaking. The class of 2007 are still hunting for jobs, with the classes of '08 and '09 – by now '10, too – snapping at their heels, all cramming each other further into the bottleneck of despair created by the recession. Get rid of a fixed retirement age and you're essentially making that bottleneck longer and thinner.

The ticking of biological clocks has never been louder, and the same social shift that means that 20-year-olds can act like teenagers and 40 is the new 30 also means that 65 is no longer the doddery totem it once was. It does seem a little unfair to hoof people out the door based on an outdated stereotype of blue rinses and shaky hands, but surely that's just how it goes.

I for one can't wait to retire; I will plant begonias and eat peaches. But the likelihood is that I'll have to work until I'm 102 and any children I might have (God help them) will be up chimneys anyway, because I won't be able to afford to send them to school.

One of the supposed benefits of the age-change is that the buying power of those still in employment will further boost an ailing economy, or, as I like to paraphrase it, "let them eat teacake". The oldies in the corner offices can keep themselves in chenille socks and Ovaltine, and I'll be out there selling matches and bartering my hair just to stay afloat. But with Mum and Dad firmly ensconced at work, at least I'll be receiving pocket money until I'm about 47.


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