Older generation could have most to fear from Brexit
THE “grey vote” was probably crucial in settling the outcomes of both the 2014 Scottish independence and the 2016 EU referenda. If it was, we oldies may well discover to our cost, the wisdom of being canny in what we wish for. Neither referendum campaign was overburdened by rational thinking. The outcome of the EU referendum in particular was settled by dog whistle arguments appealing largely to instinct and ill-founded prejudices. We pay more than our share, immigrants are taking our jobs and free loading on the NHS and welfare system. The UK is being denied the sun-dappled uplands. The right-wing press says so, so it must be true.
It’s possible those sentiments resonate most loudly amongst the older generation. Our take on life is generally conservative. We’re nostalgic for the good old days of Empire, respect for authority, Spangles, curvy bananas and black football boots. Turn the clock back and all will be well. Or will it?
Young and old would be wise to consider the EU referendum in its wider context. Leaving has always been part of the far-right agenda.
The EU has long been an anathema to a significant minority within the Conservative Party. Its legislation limits the money-making capacity of the wealthy and offers tiresome protection to the weaker members of society. The referendum was David Cameron’s ill-judged attempt to resolve internal conflict within its ranks. That turned out well, didn’t it Dave?
The referendum was a heaven-sent opportunity for those wishing to roll back the state. Here was the chance to reverse half a century of progressive legislation. In a ruggedly individualistic post-brexit Britain who needs laws on minimum wages, working hours, health and safety and job security? And while we’re at it, let’s look again at nanny state regulation that prohibits sending children up chimneys.
The right-wing agenda is already rolling, largely at the expense of the weak. The Universal Credit shambles further marginalises the most vulnerable. Increasing numbers of families rely on charity and food banks. Benefit cuts put more young people on the streets. Between three and four million children live in poverty.
As the economic fantasy of Brexit unravels, further sacrifices will be required of those least able to give. With apologies to Martin Niemoller, they have already come for the young, the sick, the disabled and the unemployed. Who’s left?
That’s an awkward question for we over-65s. We are the only claimants largely unaffected by the bonfire of the benefits. Even the Tories are wary of our electoral power. The negative reaction to the so-called “dementia tax” led to rapid engagement of reverse gear. Nevertheless, it was a straw in the wind, more than hinting that the elderly are no longer exempt from neoliberal economic thinking.
In the context of austerity, it’s easy to justify a heavier fiscal regime for the elderly. Many of us have done rather well in recent years. The triple lock protects our pensions against the ravages of time and inflation. The value of our houses has gone through the roof. We enjoy a wide range of perks. Many of us are in good health and able to enjoy what we have. If you have any doubt, check the age profile of a flight to Alicante.
Former top civil servant, Lord Bichard, floated the idea that those claiming the state pension should carry out community service such as helping out in care homes. His Lordship, clearly not a student of irony, retired at the age of 54 with a huge pension. There’s little chance he will be bathing residents at a care home near you.
He suggested the sprightly elderly who didn’t do the decent thing should have their pensions reduced. From there it’s not a huge leap to means testing the state pension.
Like it or not, the EU’S social agenda has generally made life more secure for most of us, especially the most vulnerable. The not-so-hidden
Brexit agenda is to undermine that security. An insecure population is a more compliant population, less likely to resist the rigours and unfairness of deregulation.
We oldies have been slow to speak out about the injustices and indignities experienced by the sick, the disabled, the homeless and the young. We can be complacent because generally, we don’t fall into any of the vulnerable categories.
In post-brexit Britain that situation is unlikely to endure. Our favoured position is certain, at the very least, to come under increased scrutiny. We still have time to redeem ourselves. We need to speak up against the most extreme and incompetent Westminster administration in living memory.
With further apologies to Martin Niemoller, if we fail to speak up for others now, there will no one to speak up for us when our turn comes.
It was a straw in the wind, more than hinting that the elderly are no longer exempt from neoliberal economic thinking