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Friday, 18 January 2013

Expectations ...

Those of us who grew up in the immediate post-war period of the 1950s and 60s, did so with the expectation that, at 65, we would be able to retire and draw a pension we'd contributed toward, just as our parents had. We also expected to be able to buy our own homes, perhaps even moving up the property ladder from what our parents had. We expected to own a car, enjoy a career and we were raised with the expectation that there would always be a 'job' or, if we were lucky, a career for us.

It wasn't unreasonable of us to expect that our children would have the same opportunities and expectations. Or was it? In the light of the current economic mess we're experiencing, perhaps it was.

Talking to the present generation - our kids - one quickly discovers that they have a wide range of things to face that we did not. The first is the difficulty in finding employment, any employment. Even those leaving university with qualifications commerce and industry can use are struggling, and those with a more technical bent are struggling to stay employed. More and more businesses are falling back on the supermarket trick of employing largely "part time" staff which allows them to pay minimum wages and reduces the overall cost of employing someone - since you don't have to provide a career path or cover pension investments among other things.

Heavy industries are almost an extinct activity in the UK, our once extensive ship building industry is all but gone, steel is no longer produced as far as I am able to discover anywhere in the UK, the mines have vanished and now more and more High Street chains are shutting their doors. We keep hearing that we need immigrants to fill the unfilled jobs, but if that is the case, why are they unfilled? Could it be because they are so poorly paid it doesn't pay to take the work? That seems to be the case for many of these 'jobs.' What the influx of 'new' people does do is drive the price of property sky-high, but that actually benefits those on higher incomes since they are already on the property ladder, and can reap the reward in profits when they sell or when they wish to raise capital against their assets.

For those at the starting end of careers there are several problems, the first being the cost of any property anywhere near the place of work. The second is the cost of transport to and from their place of work. Once again, those who constantly argue for increasing fuel prices to "drive people out of their cars" forget that this increases the cost of public transport as well. Higher fuel prices also drive up the cost of food and every other commodity the hard pressed ordinary householder needs. As ever, the hardest hit are always those at the bottom - the young folk starting out in career (if they can find one), trying to find a home, start a family build a nest-egg for their own retirement.

Recently I talked to some 30-something folk. Neither expect to be able to retire, they have their own home, but at the cost of both working. Both work a six day week, and forget about having a day at home together in the week - the changes to allow businesses to trade 24/7 have put paid to the family having even one day together at the weekend. The law allows the employers to give two days in the week off - not necessarily together and almost assuredly not on a Saturday or Sunday. At least, in the days when I worked that sort of pattern, I lived at the Fire Station and so did my family, not so the folk who work for the likes of Tesco, Sainsbury et al, or the many 'Call Centres' and other distribution centres now working round the clock. You note, of course, that the "executives" of these companies do not, themselves work weekends and public holidays, that is just for the 'plebs.'

I really feel for the current younger generation, their expectations are shrinking and career opportunities vanishing faster than anyone can change a shirt. Even if you are fortunate enough to land one, it is extremely likely, given the current economic situation, that the company will be sold, merged or asset stripped and broken up eaving the employees high and dry. There is no longer any guarantee that a company will still exist in 20 years, let alone 40 or 50.

It has long been my opinion, that the problem is short term thinking. Investors, Board Members, Politicians and even Civil Servants all seem to think no further than this fiscal year, or, if you're lucky, five years at the most. There are no 'visions' any longer, just a 'make the fastest buck you can, grab the money and run' philosophy. Our so-called 'leaders' in business as well as in politics are completely out of touch with the realities and difficulties faced by those below "middle management" and really do not understand the impact of their lack of longterm vision or planning on the very people they depend on to 'produce' whatever it is they have their money invested in.

Add to this the ever growing 'benefits' system of the UK and - from the government's own figures - you quickly realise that it is only a matter of time before the cost of the benefits and the rest of the 'government machine' will outstrip the national income. At that point there will be major hardship for everyone not in that top one or two percent that is the 'movers and shakers' of the Boardrooms, Banking, Politics and Civil Service. Don't expect them to understand why people are starving on the streets and don't expect them to trim their own expensive lifestyles to address the issue. We already have the example of the MPs voting to give themselves a 32% increase in pay and a further 20% increase in their "expenses" while at the same time reducing the basic pay for police. Out of touch? Or simply don't give a damn?

After my conversation with my young friends, and a bit of thought and digging, I find myself bitter at the way we have all been betrayed.

We were brought up being told that the "Universal Pension" meant we didn't need to make provision for it. Those of us who did, found ourselves penalised for doing so, and then Gordon Brown and the rest of the Westminster and Whitehall Thieves Guild asset stripped them and left most of us struggling. Now they keep telling us that it is the fault of "greedy pensioners." Did we create an uninvested pension scheme? Did we not pay into this scheme, involuntarily for the most part, throughout our working lives? How then are we responsible for the problem?

Over the last seventy years politicians, civil servants, 'captains of industry/commerce' and Union leaders, have played fast and loose with the money we contributed to our retirement and to the building of the nations economic base. They have created a society which is now dependent on handouts, an economy which is owned by foreign capital, where jobs are scarce and getting scarcer, and where our children and their children can look forward to a return to - what? A pre-nineteenth Century system of 'grace and favour' where the wealthy provide for the servants and retainers? Of tied 'cottages' for favoured employees? Of a subsistence economy for the majority and unimagineable luxury for the rich?

Our children are paying for the short-sightedness and greed of Whitehall, Westminster, the Unions and the Captains of Industry and Commerce.  It's a disgrace - but I'm damned if I know how we can fix it.

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