Francis Beckett writes in the Guardian today:
The one piece of good news in the budget was that George Osborne restored the link between state pensions and earnings, which Margaret Thatcher broke in 1980. Osborne's decision comes just in time for the baby boomers – the children of the 1960s – to benefit.
But for the children of the baby boomers, governments offer only misery. Higher education minister David Willetts has made it clear that students' fees are going to go up. A lot. Baby boomers, born between 1945 and 1955, paid no fees at all when they were students in the free and carefree 60s.
Today, because people are living longer, baby boomers are a much more powerful political force than 55- to 65-year-olds have ever been before. And they are exercising their political muscle on their own behalf. Any government that fails to give the baby boomers what they want, even at the expense of younger generations, is in for severe punishment at the ballot box, according to research from the thinktank Demos.
I'm a fully paid up baby boomer. My tonsils rest, no doubt carefully preserved, in an NHS hospital. When I got polio (from which I made a complete recovery) my parents did not have to worry about enormous medical bills, as their parents would have done. Aneurin Bevan's NHS – the greatest civilising measure ever undertaken by a British government – saw me right.
When I went to university, my widowed mother being demonstrably penniless, I received not only free education, but a student grant that I could live on in term-time. For the first time, proletarian and regional accents were heard throughout the British university system, and their owners were no longer made to feel out of place. Neil Kinnock, as he famously told the Welsh Labour party conference in 1987, was "the first Kinnock in a thousand generations" to have a university education.
We are the first generation in which pretty well everyone can read and write fairly fluently. We had the freedom that comes from not having to fear starvation if your employer fires you: there were other jobs to go to, and a welfare state to fall back on. These things made possible the freedom of the 60s.
And what did we do with this wonderful inheritance? We trashed it.
We created a far harsher world for our children to grow up in. It was as though we decided that the freedom and lack of worry which we had inherited was too good for our children, and we pulled up the ladder we had climbed.
Six decades after its birth, Britain's welfare state is in the worst danger it has known. Commentators and politicians sneer at it and undermine it while legislators chip away at it. The political will in the Labour party that created it has gone.
More and more bits of the health service cost more and more. The principle that no one should die of a treatable disease was breached long ago. For years, no politician could safely criticise the NHS without courting the severest electoral punishment, but now some top Conservatives are saying that the NHS isn't "relevant in the 21st century".
The welfare state is starved of money, and struggling under the weight of great, bullying, bureaucratic initiatives designed to give it the appearance of a market, because nothing that does not look like a market is apparently acceptable in the Britain the baby boomers built.
Most capital expenditure for education and health no longer comes from the present-day taxpayer, but from the next generation, because the baby boomers have been too stingy to pay for it. This trick is done by means of the private finance initiative (PFI), a scam for getting the cost of public buildings such as schools and hospitals off the present government's books, and placing them on the books of governments 10 or 20 years hence.
The freedoms the baby boomers fought for, they deny to their children. "Hoodie" was just a name for a garment in fashion with children and teenagers, until it was demonised by people who were young and fashionable in the 60s. Teenagers under legal drinking age have a dramatically reduced range of options for a good night out. Pubs and clubs are barred to them, far more effectively and efficiently than they were ever barred to us. We force our children into the school uniforms we rejected, partly because they help the police to recognise those who ought to be at school. It is like making them wear prison uniform so they will be instantly recognisable when they scale their prison walls.
Education is no longer seen as a good in itself, but as the acquisition of the skills required to swell someone else's profits. New Labour abolished the higher education department, and placed its responsibilities under the department dealing with business and industry, a pretty good indication of what ministers now think education is for. The new higher education minister, David Willetts, has made several speeches since the election, and has not yet once mentioned any sort of education that does not provide marketable skills.
Harold Wilson saved the baby boomers from having to fight alongside young Americans in Vietnam. When the baby boomer generation formed a government, its prime minister, Tony Blair, told lies to the young so that he could send them to fight alongside the Americans in Iraq.
Opinion polls show that the now elderly baby boomers will use their increasing voting power to ensure that when the bad times come, the young are hit first, even though it is by a chancellor of the exchequer who was not even born until the 60s were over. When the baby boomers were young, they believed society could afford student grants; now they are old, they think it can afford pensions. I say it can afford both – but only if young and old alike learn to care for each other.
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