Among the Inuit in the past, when times were really tough, the elderly took it upon themselves, as the least productive members of the community, to strip naked and walk out into the blizzard. Their suicide in the snow was a sacrifice which benefited everyone else.
I'm reminded of the Inuit by the subtle changes in this country’s attitude towards the elderly which have occurred over the past few years. These changes were reflected in the Budget but it’s much more pervasive than that.
Basically the story that’s now put about is this. The current crop of people in their sixties and upwards – the post-war Baby Boomers - are the most pampered generation in history.
Nobody has ever had it so good. They benefited from free health care, free higher education, extravagant welfare benefits, luxurious pension schemes and cheap property.
By the time they had reached late middle age, they were living the life of Riley. However, their climb up the ladder of social mobility somehow soaked up all the country’s wealth and ruined the national economy.
In the meantime, they cunningly manipulated the property market so that they now occupy houses worth so much that they are forever out of the reach of the young.
Worse, there are huge numbers of the old sods. And the selfish devils used the "pill" – supplied free by the NHS – to lower family sizes. The result is that there are now too few workers to support these elderly parasites.
Well, I just don’t buy that story. First of all, “never had it so good”? Personally, I spent my early years in the Springburn district of Glasgow. My local play facilities were ‘Jack’s Mountain’ and ‘the Stinky Ocean.’ (Great fun but huge industrial waste deposits if you need to ask.)
Our family of four children and two parents occupied two rooms and a kitchenette. We had no bathroom and shared an outside WC with two other flats.
In the 1950s, my sister contracted TB. That’s right, tuberculosis - it didn’t die out with Dickens. The NHS saved her.
A corporation house gave us a bathroom – I can remember the wonder of it. The welfare state provided the security which allowed me to be the first in my extended family to stay on at school after 15.Free university education and student grants enabled me to get a degree.
I remain enormously grateful to the community which provided me with that support. Far from now trying to draw up the ladder of social mobility behind me, I remain firmly committed to a free NHS, a caring welfare state, affordable social housing, free education and student grants.
And I have always been willing to pay for all that through taxation. I’m also keen to uphold and enhance the rights for women and minorities which I seem to recall us Baby-Boomers doing much to achieve in the late 1960s and 1970s. I know that many of my generation feel exactly the same.
Don’t blame the Baby Boomers for our current predicament. The fault lies with Thatcher’s Children. Some of these might be in the same age group as the Baby Boomers but it’s a matter of values not chronology.
The values of Thatcher’s Children are that human intellect is no match for market forces, greed is more productive than sentiment and social bonds must be dismantled to allow the untrammelled play of self-interest.
Grotesque inequality and social disintegration are acceptable costs for individual prosperity. When New Labour had a chance to challenge these values, it spent 13 years reinforcing them.
The result now is that it’s generally accepted that the welfare state has to be dismantled and the NHS privatised.
Moreover, the unproductive retired don’t sit easily with the values of Thatcher’s Children. They need to be "encouraged" to work, ideally till they drop, so that any cost to society is minimised.
We can’t afford an alternative? Well, if your values are that the state should confine itself to defence and law and order and that our prosperity depends upon untaxed, unregulated self-interest then, of course, we can’t afford it.
Currently, it’s Thatcher’s Children who hold sway. Their model society is the USA.
Let’s just hope they don’t look a bit more northwards and get some ideas from Inuit history about how to deal with the elderly.
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