From education to employment

Daniel Wallis Looks at Hope in the Old Future In Search of Spirit of “64”

Britain is getting old. The post war baby boomer generation is growing grey, and “wealth-improved” career driven mothers are having fewer babies, and later.

Remember the population pyramid from geography class? The babies were at the bottom and the dwindling stock of the aged at the top, tapering to a point as they disappear off the edge of the graph, as it were. But now the pyramid has changed; it’s a kind of barrel shape now, becoming top-heavy with more and more older people persistently clinging onto life at the top and fewer baby people emerging at the bottom. Britain is doing well economically, and as it does so it enjoys a longer life, on average 78 yrs, positively ancient compared to the bare 37 years that the average Zimbabwean can look forward to at the moment. The key is prosperity, good health services, plentiful food, no internal unrest, the relative absence of natural disasters”¦all in all, easy living.

Brass Tacks or Brass Farthings?

As a result we are living longer here, and it has people worried. The reason it has people worried, as always, is to do with money. Just this week the Minister for State Pensions urged young people to save more for their extended futures. The government has launched LinkAge, a series of pilot schemes designed to make life more accessible for the burgeoning pensioner population. Firms are being encouraged to hire older workers, and people who thought they would be soon “running out the clock” in retirement are now being handed adult education leaflets, to get them trained up and suited for another decade of work; you can”t get away that easily, it seems.

The society of tomorrow will be a strange place, not so much a brave new world as a brave old one, where hip joints will be replaced more often than mobile phones. The future generation of “The Old” will be unrecognizable compared to the old dears we know now. Gone will be the days of blue rinse, bifocals, elasticated trousers and zimmerframes; in will be the time of Pensioner Pride, the slowest parade to hit Trafalgar Square, as hordes of ipod wielding old people (now to be referred to as the “chronologically challenged”) take their mature mantra to the streets: Old and Proud, and with the Knee-Joints to Prove It.

It is slightly scary to think that the old of tomorrow will prefer Coke to tea, and will “wrap up warm” in “I”m with Stupid” t-shirts instead of knitted scarves. Old people’s homes will blast out Queen and the Sex Pistols, and the afternoon piece of cake and Columbo will be phased out for a slice of pizza and Crime Scene Investigation, or CSI. Old people will know how to use technology. They will surf the net with ease, no longer clicking randomly at the page whilst barking oral commands in frustration. They will play video games.

The Consumer Trends

The focus of consumer society will change too. We”ve seen “Gap” stores, and “Gap for Kids”; expect to see “GapPlus”, clothes for the “maturing generation”. Cosmetic surgeons will spring up on every street corner as the ageing “it” generation get to grips with their sagging figures and deepening lines. Exclusive clubs will blast out 90’s music until the early morning, two thuggish bouncers outside informing you that this is for over 45’s only. Public utilities will be a maze of grab-bars, stairlifts, half-way benches and zimmerframe parking-lots, with billboards advertising the latest in denture development (“Gone a bridge too far? Try UltraDent!”) glaring down in extra-large print.

The future will also mean a change in the way old people will be seen by society; for a start, they will be society. For the first time, the young may feel threatened by the overwhelming aged in the same way that the elderly of today fear gangs of hooded teenagers; remember, in the brave old world, it will be the pensioners who wear the hoodies and outnumber the young. Old people may be able to get a decent existence for the first time, no longer sidetracked at the age of 70, consigned to weekend visits or retirement homes, all with one cynical eye on the watch. Their views will not be so easily dismissed, as they will be voting in record numbers, and they will enjoy the attention of politicians that they have been missing out on for so long; don”t be surprised to see “Help the Aged” go political.

The workplace too, will be a different place, no longer the exclusive haunt of 18 to 40 year-olds. These days, the only grey head in the company belongs to the boss, or maybe the janitor, but one day young and old will mix as equals on the battlefield of employment. They will have to, as the ministry for state pensions tells us frantically. With so many people getting old at the same time, someone’s going to have to go back to work. Businesses must become used to hiring older workers, rather than immediately sending their CV’s into the laughter pile. The stereotypes of doddering and inefficient geriatrics must be faced with the reality of experienced workers ready for whatever work throws at them, or else the state pension office will be in for a shock.


Young people now are being urged to save, save, save for the future, which is being heralded as a grim place beset by poverty and hardship, with people outliving their life’s work and finding themselves running on empty in their twilight years. The only problem is that we are too used to spending rather than saving, indeed it is necessary in modern society to expend to the point of exhaustion in order to exist. Modern life is merely a series of payments that must be made, and as a citizen you are assessed on your ability to pay””pay the rent, pay the bills, pay the phone companies, pay for food, pay for water, energy, transport, leisure, children.

A good citizen is one that can pay all these on time and regenerate enough to pay again tomorrow, but fall short and you are no longer wanted, a burden on society that must be grudgingly paid for, the way that the aged of today are seen by the resentful and youthful portions of society. Even when you are dead, you will continue to pay, through the inheritance tax your children will have laid on them or through the actual process of putting you in the ground: those funerals don”t come for free.

So look forward to old age, but not retirement, and a long life working now to lessen the calamities of later, all in all a not too cheery prospect, but don”t let it get you down; after all, there’s the senior citizen’s discount to look forward to, and, when it doesn”t get any better, elasticated pants and a bus pass.

Daniel Wallis

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