The Blog

Let's Hear It for the Oldies...

Here's a little conundrum for you to chew over: it's estimated that over the next decade, there'll be something like 13.5 million job vacancies in the UK, but only 7 million young people will be leaving full-time education. So who's going to fill those jobs?

Here's a little conundrum for you to chew over: it's estimated that over the next decade, there'll be something like 13.5million job vacancies in the UK, but only seven million young people will be leaving full-time education. So who's going to fill those jobs?

Don't say immigrants, because the government says it wants to reduce net immigration to fewer than 100,000 a year. So how about that much-maligned section of the population, the baby-boomers, those of us born in the immediate post-war years and now gracefully sliding towards, well, what exactly?

According to an article in the Financial Times this week, for the first time there are now more than a million over-65s still working in the UK. The number has doubled in the past 20 years and is likely to keep on rising. Yes, there are more of us, and we're healthier and living longer. What's more, many of us need the cash.

In Japan, the problem is far more acute, because there, the birth rate is falling dramatically while life expectancy is sharply increasing. Not enough young people, too many old people - it's not a recipe for a healthy society or a healthy economy.

At least here in Britain, we're still having lots of babies. (Well, when I say "we", I don't mean us baby boomers, obviously... ) In fact, the UK birth rate is currently among the highest in Europe (an average of 1.93 births per woman of child-bearing age), in part because of higher birth rates among migrants who tend to be younger than the indigenous population.

Now, your attitude to all this will depend on how old you are, how rich you are, and how much you enjoy your job, assuming you have one. You can't be forced any more to retire when you reach 65, and that's one reason why the numbers of oldies in work are rising. The retailers B&Q are well-known for encouraging job applications from older people, but apparently even McDonald's now have more than 1,000 employees over the age of 60.

Baby boomers get a bad press these days: we're the 60s generation, pot-smoking, sex-obsessed, flower-waving hippies who never had to fight a war or struggle for a job. The year I was born, 1948, is said to be the luckiest year ever to be born in: we were delivered by the newly-established NHS, we were never called up to serve in the armed forces, and if we were fortunate, we got onto the housing ladder at the start of a 30-year-long boom in property prices.

Those of us lucky enough to go to university (about five per cent of school-leavers in the 1960s, compared to more than 40 per cent now) received a government grant - and yes, it's true, we went around quoting William Wordsworth every single day: "bliss it was in that dawn to be alive/But to be young was very heaven."

Two years ago, the cerebral government minister David Willetts (born 1956, and therefore himself a boomer) wrote a book provocatively titled: How the Baby Boomers Took Their Children's Future - And Why They Should Give it Back. His argument - and I simplify somewhat - was that we risk leaving to our children a world in which they are taxed more than we were, work longer hours for less money than we did, and live in a degraded environment thanks to our love for central heating, fuel-hungry motor cars and anything that runs on oil.

OK, guilty as charged - up to a point. But I'm not sure that we boomers can fairly be blamed for all the sins of our age; after all, the world in which we grew up, the 50s, 60s and 70s, was a world that had been created by our elders. True, we benefited from it, but we didn't make it.

What we were guity of was a belief that we could have it all, for ever, at no cost. The hippies among us believed (or wanted to believe, which isn't necessarily the same thing) that if we all made love, not war, the world would become a perfect place. Life would be good, would always be good, and could never be bad. We know better now.

We also know that the country may still need our labour for a few more years. So perhaps we can attone for our past sins - if sinners we were - by working till we drop. Last night, I was honoured to receive an award in memory of the late BBC broadcaster Charles Wheeler, who remained a hard-working reporter until he was well into his 80s. For that reason, among many others, he will always be my hero.