David Willetts MP responds to Boris and baby boomers

This is not an attack on the baby-boomer generation;  it is instead an appeal to the better nature of the boomers – an appeal to Edmund Burke’s understanding that a nation is “a partnership not only between those who are living, but between those who are living, those who are dead, and those who are to be born”

One of the highlights of my political career was when Boris Johnson put me on his list of ideal dinner party companions (a great opportunity to meet Aristotle and Scarlett Johansson), so I recognise that behind his brilliantly effervescent articles there is often a deep wisdom too. I paid careful attention, therefore, when on Monday he challenged the argument in my new book, The Pinch. My book argues that the baby boomers have ended up doing very well for ourselves but that we are dumping too heavy a burden on the generations after us.

Boris is ideally positioned to make the case for the baby boomers, roughly those born between 1945 and 1965. Our baby boom had two peaks. The first came in 1947 – those were the teenagers who shrieked for the Beatles and promenaded up Carnaby Street in their bellbottoms. The second peak, when we had more than a million born in one year, came in 1964 – those are the boomers whose formative years were framed by punk rock and the poll tax protests. Somehow I do not quite see Boris participating in those social movements but demographically he is at their epicentre. He was born in summer 1964, the very quarter when we had more babies born than in any other three months in the past 60 years.

Boris celebrates the extraordinary technological advances of the baby boomers. I do not deny this achievement and indeed recognise in the book that human creativity and enterprise can continue to raise living standards. But that leaves open a host of questions. Take his example of perhaps the greatest single benefit of this advance: the improvement in life expectancy. That is marvellous. But it has very different effects on different generations because of, for example, contracts to pay people pensions after a fixed chronological age. It makes those promises far more valuable than expected for those people who already have them and makes employers very reluctant to be caught out making such promises again. I estimate therefore that over half the nation’s pensions wealth belongs to the baby boomers. They are doing much better than those generations coming before or after.

There is a similar story for the other main form of personal wealth: housing. We boomers got started on the housing ladder and then let inflation undermine the real value of our mortgages so we were left sitting on a lot of extra housing equity. The Labour Government then encouraged people to borrow against this equity instead of saving. So for the four years between 2005 and 2008, British families were not saving anything at all – unprecedented for any advanced Western economy since the War. The younger generation are finding it much harder to get started on the housing ladder. Their borrowings, including their student debts, will take years to pay off. Meanwhile, under this government, house building has reached a record low, much lower than when we boomers were trying to buy our first houses.

As a Conservative, I believe in spreading wealth and opportunity. With the direction the country is going in at the moment, I do not see how the younger generation are going to be able to build up funded pension savings or get on the housing ladder in the way we did. Commentators endlessly analyse how our country is divided by income or class, but there is a generational divide too. It needs to be tackled. We cannot just fold our arms and let improvements in technology discharge our obligation to future generations. When you look at Conservative proposals to raise the state pension age or transform the incentives for local communities to allow more houses to be built, it is clear that we recognise what has to be done to offer a fair deal to the younger generation too. And Boris himself has put this commitment to the younger generation at the heart of his mayoralty.

I would go further: what is broken about our country is the contract between the generations. The public finances are broken, and that means public services for us today are being paid for by borrowings which our children will be paying off for decades. That is why it is so important to get public borrowing under control. What is broken about our society is the escalator of rising social mobility so that younger people can make their way in the world independent of what their parents did: fixing that means reforming our schools and colleges. And our broken politics is, above all, putting off the younger generation of voters who feel their voice is not being heard.

This is not an attack on the baby-boomer generation – a generation of which I am proud to be a part. Boris is quite clearly right to note the baby boomers’ contributions. Nor is it a pessimistic belief that we are inevitably trapped in generational conflict. It is instead an appeal to the better nature of the boomers – an appeal to Edmund Burke’s understanding that a nation is “a partnership not only between those who are living, but between those who are living, those who are dead, and those who are to be born”. Boris is right about the miracles of modern technology, but that does not discharge this fundamental obligation.

15 thoughts on “David Willetts MP responds to Boris and baby boomers”

  1. I would loved to have been ta that dinner party . It must have had stimulating conversation and lots of jokes and puns.
    The facts of life are that GB and his thieving thugs have robbed our children of any chance of getting on the property ladder.
    To get on one you first have to have a steady job ( Fat Chance )If you have been lucky to get into a university you can’t get a morgage because your cridit rating is so low
    There children and grandchildren will be paying back the labour debt so why should they want to go to work to get nothing for thier future.
    I have had the pleasure of speaking with David and found him to be a very agreable chat. I hold Boris as a true polition as he tells it as he see’s it and that is rare in politics.
    I look forward to hering the policies of the conservative in the very near future . But PLEASE, PLEASE tell DC to not act like kids in the playground at PMQ’S

  2. Exactly. We have not built up the capital that is necessary for the next generation to be able to support the present generation in our retirement. Government has gobbled great quantities of the available capital, while itself running up staggering amounts of ‘negative capital’ in the form of national debt, unfunded pension schemes and the PFI. We have no serious proposals for paying for any of this.

    Perhaps we are the generation that never grew up. We have continued to spend money like stereotypical teenagers. It’s time, at last, to grow up.

  3. Oxford educated David Willetts became embroiled in the parliamentary expenses scandal after it was revealed he claimed £115 for workmen to replace 25 lightbulbs.

  4. The reason why the younger generation now don’t want to save for a rainy day or to buy a house is because they just look at their parents’ current situation: working hard all their lives, saving and borrowing money from a bank to buy their house then saving to pay back their mortgage. Then what? Their children grow up and leave the nest. And then what? Their parents will have to sell the house to pay for their nursing care in a nursing home. Expensive. Their final days in a nursing home might be long enough to eat up all the money before they die. Only then the government will step in and help pay for their nursing care until they die. If that the case then there will be no money left for their children. Sad.

    People who have lived in council houses all their lives when they need to go to a nursing home the government will pay for their nursing care as they have no house to sell; therefore no money to pay for their nursing care.

    In the old days, we all wanted to own a house rather than renting. But then again, in Germany most people prefer to rent and spend their cash on the simple pleasures of life – eating out, new clothes, new cars, holidays abroad. They just think their own kids should make their own ways in life themselves. They might be right in a way.

    Edna, are you there Edna? Oh my world you won’t believe this but they say both Carla and Sarkozy have affairs of the heart right now. Oh la la surce de Demerara! Oh mon Dieu! This country has gone to the dogs. Over to you Edna.

  5. Why, oh why do so many people in this country think that if you don’t own house you are a second class citizen? You do not get that idiocy in other western countries.

  6. To be honest with you all- I’m out of my depth this time, I’m not going to comment on this. Sorry but please let me in though. Thanks.

    Alreet, Edith? Alreet, love? Oh my sweet Lord. Is it true, Edith? Oh Edith, me Cyril would turn in his grave over this for sure. He did not liberate France from Hitler for ‘them’ to behave like that. Oh what a shame really love. Oh my sweet Lord. I mean are ‘they’ really really having fun separately Edith? And proud of it? Oh my good Lord! Heaven forbid! How modern.

    But I know the French. Nobody likes the French. If they have a bit of education they will start to act like a bunch of pretentious philosophers. Like those pretentious philosophical dialogues in all those little seen French movies or French novels. After 5 minutes of it you just want to squeeze one out. Loudly. After having checked the coast is clear. Mind.

    Have you seen Carla in that blue dress Edith? Oh my sweet Lord. Revolting. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/worldnews/article-1255065/Carla-Bruni-welcomes-Russian-president-state-dinner-Elysee-Palace-daringly-tight-dress.html

    What is she trying hard to be? President’s wife? A singer? Or a fashion model? Or worse, all of them. Too much. Call me sarcastic or anything if you want love but I don’t think they are a compatible couple at all. Obviously.

    ( Between you and me, Edith: What really worries me is that Frumpy might go out and copy Carla this time too. Just to be modern like our Carla. )

    Alreet, Edith? Keep me well informed love. Take care love.

  7. Good evening Edna,

    I dare not call you anything Edna and you know that. But she’s very beautiful and elegant so maybe you’re just jealous, no no sorry what I really mean is maybe other people are just jealous and they spread false rumours around. I don’t know, maybe. I don’t know. [Ed: how about you lovely ladies going over to the Forum – see above – and continue chattering there to your hearts’ content?]

  8. Perhaps you talk better than you write, otherwise quite why Boris Johnson would want you at a dinner party is unclear – perhaps your cooking skills are more advanced than your light-bulb changing abilities? The article drags on and on in the most soulless fashion when the same points could have been made in a quarter of the wordage.

  9. The elderly today face a minimum of 600 quid per week bill for care in a residential nursing home to be looked after in a unit with a care ratio of 20 residents to 2 carers (Not nurses but carers) on just over minimum wage with very little experience in care.

    There are some fantastic carers out there but their vastly out numbered by carers who just do it because they are forced to (I have much personal experience on this subject).

    Today as you read this comment there are old people who are sitting in their own mess and have been doing so for the past few hours. They will then be fed something that didn’t make it onto the food chain and given drugs to shut them up.

    Does that 600 quid a week sound like value for money to you?

    My mother is a baby boomer who spent her life working as a pharmacist with 2 different pharmacies and also head of pharmacy at a major hospital in Wales…..she then suffered a severe stroke just before the time of retirement but worked since from the age of 17.

    Does she deserve to pay for her care after the amount of tax she has payed over the years?


    But she still pays for it….whilst Mr and Mrs Scum who have done nothing all their lives feel hard done to because they might…just might have to go and do a days work before their benefits are stopped.

    They then pay nothing for their care should they become ill.

    I am not saying that people who are disabled should pay through the nose for their care but what I want to know is why is it that people who have worked all their life and payed tax for 100 families on the dole and their upkeep should continue to be taxed to the point where the family home must be sold?

    Where is the justice here?

    The family home should fall outside of all estate taxation and be a sacred thing because it gives a sense of history and a reason to save….otherwise what’s the point in working and saving?

    Just go on the dole……you will end up in just the same boat as some who worked all their lives in the same care homes.


  10. Not to put too fine a point on it, but Boris isn’t a baby boomer; he’s GenX.

    I’m a year older than Boris and Douglas Coupland told me to my face that I was GenX.

  11. Ed, are you telling me and Edna to go to the Forum and drive Angelneptunestar up the wall with our chattering instead? That’s not very nice, is it?

    Well, we have decided to stay here to be loyal with you and to drive YOU around the bend instead.
    [Ed: hahaha lol! I have to give it to you Edith; I can’t deny your quick wit and good sense of humour]

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