Oliver Cross: Planet of the OAPs

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People don’t think on enough, which is why I got into minor trouble this week for completely forgetting St Valentine’s day.

My excuse is that I’ve become depressed and preoccupied by the possible fall in Britain’s credit ratings and the nerve-wracking situation in the Middle East.

Also, if the retail sector really wants us to plough money into impractical cards and gifts which can lead to wild misunderstandings and visits to A&E, they should give us some unambiguous warnings – sirens in shop doorways, for example – rather than hoping we’ll take the hint from soppy pink posters and coy references to ‘your special lady at this special time’, which could just as easily apply to the menstrual cycle.

Anyway, if I’m regularly caught out by predictable events, at least I’m not alone. Last week, the education authorities were shocked to discover a big rise in the number of children entering primary schools, although they would presumably have been less shocked if they had, four or five years ago, noticed the big rise in the number of children entering the world.

This reflects the big crises on the health, social-care and pensions fronts occasioned by the failure of experts to foresee the regrettable tendency of selfish, bone-headed people to live longer.

This seems to have come as an enormous surprise to everyone, despite the fact that there are highly-paid people called actuaries who are supposed to predict such things, and that it didn’t happen overnight; actually, the disadvantages of people living longer only seem to have become an urgent concern at about the same time that financiers and take-the-profits-and-run corporations were well on their way to draining the economy dry.

But still people don’t (in about the only Yorkshire phrase of any use to the outside world) think on. They accept that their final-salary pensions have to go, that an above-inflation pay rise is a blessing only available in fantasy-land or the City of London, and that if, as in Greece, the minimum wage has to be reduced, it serves us right for failing to notice, while shopping with wild abandon at Primark or Aldi, the potential dangers of an out-of-control derivatives market.

So flash forward 30 or 40 years (when I’ll almost certainly be dead) and let’s see where not thinking-on has left us.

We’ll have a huge number of elderly people who, because they’ve been unemployed or minimally-paid for much of their working lives, have hopelessly inadequate pensions which can’t, without creating another deficit crisis, be supplemented through the benefits system, even if you make them work until they’re 90.

Businesses will be going bust because of the lack of customers able to afford anything sellable, stick-thin pensioners will be fighting like pigeons over crusts of bread and the only hope is that the present reorganisation of the NHS proves to be so incompetent that life-expectancy rates drop like a stone. Fortunately, I think we can rely on the Health Secretary, Andrew Lansley, to deliver on that one.

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