I am a Baby Boomer,
My birth and early life in battle-scarred SE London, the high points of life in the optimistic 60s and 70s and the subsequent highs and often lows thereafter as we (often literally) limped into middle age and later life, have already been explored. So now we arrive at the million dollar question for us Baby Boomers –
What happens next?
For those lucky or clever enough to have amassed a large personal crock of gold: no worries. For the vast majority of us though, plagued by problems both monetary and personal, we face the future with trepidation, as we try man (or womanfully) to carry both the older and younger generations, and it seems, the rest of the country and indeed the world, on our ever more stooping shoulders.
For many of us, our early lives had given us great expectations of the future.
‘Girls’, the Headmistress at my Grammar School had told us a la mode of the ‘crème de la crème’ of Miss Jean Brodie, ‘You can do anything, be anyone you want. The future is in your hands’. And in those heady, optimistic days of the sixties when all was bright and new and unemployment practically non-existent against the exciting background of the new music scene, and the new hard-won freedoms for women in particular, this seemed a perfectly reasonable statement. So, clutching our ‘A’ Level Certificates; and even, later on, for the lucky ones, our degrees, we walked off into what we hoped and had every reason to believe to be a bright and prosperous future.
For a few good years at the beginning of the 70s, things looked like they may be going to plan; jobs remained plentiful, and housing affordable. New ideas and freedoms continued to flourish, and fashion became ever more bright and innovative.
The rot began to set in in the mid 70s, when one these ‘new freedoms’ involved bringing in a new law designed to protect private tenants. The actual immediate effect was that many private landlords rushed to evict their tenants while they still could, before the new law came into force, and sold their properties. For us, now homeless and expecting our first child, this meant taking turns living with our respective parents, and even sometimes sleeping in our car, until we could find a house we could afford to buy – the new law had meant that the supply of homes available for private renting had dried up, and the Council more or less laughed in our faces when we asked for help. We eventually managed to find a small ancient house to buy and obtained a mortgage, which was still relatively easy to do for those with two incomes.
In spite of regular squeezes on Civil Service salaries, with careful economy we maintained a reasonable existence, still hopeful of better things to come. We were confident enough to increase our family, and looked for a larger house to accommodate the expected new arrival. So, in 1979 we sold up and moved to a more rural suburb of London.
Thanks to the ‘Right to Buy’ legislation introduced by the Thatcher Government, this was in fact an ex Council house. The happy vendors were upgrading – an emotive illustration of the ‘them and us’ state which still exists between Council tenants who, as far as I can see, were not only extremely fortunate to get a Council House in the first place, but then became doubly lucky when they were able to purchase their homes at a bargain basement price – paid for by the Community as a whole – while we lapped up the crumbs from the tables of those who could now benefit from this public munificence as they sold on their ex-council houses to the likes of us, at a huge profit funded by the taxpayer; no doubt grinning as they leapfrogged over us on the housing ladder, for our privately paid rents had vanished never to be seen again.
And within months of moving to our new home, the mortgage rate soared overnight to an impossible level, and our carefully worked out budget crashed around our ears. Our problems were just beginning.
Over the years, hopes of both residential and financial advancement for us workers of all classes began to recede further and further from our grasp, as we were permitted to keep less and less of our hard-earned and had to watch it being handed over to idlers and newcomers to our shores, while our children, now parents themselves, followed our sad path of working their fingers to the bone whilst showing no discernible advantage over those living in free houses and doing no work at all. Not for the likes of them decent affordable housing!
So we got older, and, still determined to do our best to prevent our kids going as we did through the horrors of shoestring budgets and even bailiffs; we did our best to help them keep their heads above water. Retirement lump sums, earmarked for paying off the mortgage and other such jolly things, vanished away as the poor old house desperately needed repairs; the family needed support; huge credit card debts (interest forever being hiked up by the banks and the government doing nothing to rein them in) needed servicing, and reliable cars were needed as we now had 2 sets of very elderly and much loved parents needing our care, meaning we had to be mobile.
I now discovered the true meaning of ‘middle age’ – at one end of the spectrum I had the pleasure of babysitting my youngest grandchild, enabling his Mum to help the family finances: and at the other end I was rushing back and forth to look after aged parents at different ends of London, entailing long hours at the mercy of the often abysmal TfL; however here the one advantage of older age came into its own - The Freedom Pass! Of course with such family responsibilities, a job for me was out of the question, so my poor Spouse has to work on until he drops, without the benefit of a Free Pass to get him to work, for new austerity rules have meant that, much to his disgust, he has to wait another year for his.
With the Old Age Pension being pushed ever further away from our grasp too as successive governments continue to hand our hard earned cash over to those who have paid nothing in, we see a future with no hope of relief for such as us.
Blow after blow falls in quick succession, both financial and personal, as hope of ever actually owning our house recedes daily, and constant worry about care for our beloved parents (and indeed for ourselves in the not too distant future as our health fails) wrecks us both mentally and physically.
Like many of our generation, we have recently suffered the biggest blow of all, as one of our children has decided to emigrate to the New World, where opportunity still abounds for those willing to work, and society seeks to reward those who make a contribution and play by the rules, allowing them to actually reap the benefits of their hard work and dedication. I am heartbroken, but, knowing what I know, and seeing what I see in this country, how can I begrudge them the chance to give their children the standard of living they deserve?
So now we no longer recognise those optimistic youngsters of 40 or so years ago; we wonder where it all went wrong. We did all the right things: studied hard, worked hard, paid our taxes, looked after our families as best we could and kept our noses clean. Yet, whenever we need something back from the state we have paid into all our lives, it more or less falls about laughing as it continues to hand our money over it seems to anyone but those who actually earned it.
Do we sound bitter? Yes of course we do, because we feel there is no justice or indeed fairness for those of us Boomers who never got the lucky breaks, or didn’t start from a position of privilege or wealth.
What is there for us to look forward to? Not even warden assisted sheltered housing for us as we age; they cost far too much for the authorities to maintain! No, it’s just more of the same as far ahead as we can see. Work til we drop and see others get the benefit of the hard work which is destroying us. And watch open mouthed as people such as the Bankers are paid in a single year what most of us will never earn in a lifetime, while they preside over the destruction of the economy. Is the voluntary work undertaken by many of us Boomers less valuable than their contribution to society? I think not.
So, dear friends, time now to forget those joyful chants of the hopeful Sixties – we have a new Mantra now for the 21st Century. - All together now you Baby Boomers – to the tune of ‘Hari Krishna ‘:
Don’t get sick and ….Don’t get old and….!