If I ruled the world: stop the spongers!

The emergency budget doesn't need to be too drastic—there's a whole generation of shameless spongers who should be forced into national service. And I don’t mean teenagers
May 24, 2010

We all know the problem, but none dare speak the truth. We maintain a vast sector who live workless and idle, bereft of any social function save that of state-subsidised consumers. Their useless days are spent in front of their television or computer or hanging about in parks, engaging with no one save their own age group, the temptation to regular stupefaction by drink and drugs just around the corner. For them, a regime of enforced social contribution, however much it might be resisted, would yield vast benefits in terms of mental and physical wellbeing, while helping to cure us of our public deficit by increasing national productivity without a corresponding rise in government spending.

I speak, of course, of our elders. Not those who fought Hitler, or dodged V-1s as schoolchildren, were rationed as young adults and did their national service: these stout Britons have the absolute right to swan about in red sportscars and so on for as long as they live. No, the villains are the so-called baby boomers, who should more rightly be named the eternal adolescents.

Born in 1945 or after, the eternal adolescents (general secretary, J Street-Porter) entered adulthood in a happy land of high wages, full employment, low interest rates, cheap property and social mobility. Hugely outnumbering the baffled heroes of the last hat-wearing generation, they enshrined teenage impatience as morality itself. As one of the founders of the psychotic Baader-Meinhof gang wailed: “Wait for socialism? But I’m 25 already!” The people of this generation regarded as self-evident the freedom to divorce, screw around without fear of offspring, drink their brains out, take drugs, embrace ludicrous fashions and evade intellectual rectitude at all costs. They occasionally justified their demographic revolt by pleading Strangelovian nightmares of nuclear annihilation, but the only real dangers they faced were those of terminal excess. Their ultimate term of abuse was “boring.” Their luck meant they could amass the sort of bricks and mortar of which their children can only dream.

As they now approach retirement, these perpetual teenagers are becoming abusers of a system designed to ensure a couple of years of autumnal dignity, not to bankroll a couple of decades of leisure. Not content with having had the easiest ride in history, these shameless spongers have the temerity to suggest that when they can no longer totter up an easyJet gangway, crack open the next bottle, or recognise their own children, the nation should provide years of ruinously expensive “care.”

By what right does this most unheroic of generations expect us to subsidise further decades of their self-indulgence? Little wonder that around the dinner-tables of fortysomethings conversation has suddenly turned—in a way which would have been unthinkable 20 years ago but was perfectly familiar to those who lived in Jane Austen’s time—to the topic of expectations. One might call this the “school fees for Molly versus care fees for Mummy” question. Eternal adolescents would do well to head off the growing interest in Voluntarily Accelerated Inheritance.

And so let them work! All new pensioners will get a gap year at 65, and then be called up from 66 until 69. The resulting billions of work-hours will be of virtually no cost to the taxpayer—who already pays for them and their bus passes anyway—because there will be none of the bureaucratic idiocy which so burdens our public servants. They will merely assist existing frontline workers. Our schools are short of staff? Very well: the army of retired teachers on (unfunded) final salary schemes will provide free assistance for every classroom. Our streets lack policemen? Excellent: we already have on our national payroll thousands of men in their mid-sixties who would leap out of their armchairs, don neighbourhood watch armbands and accompany lonely bobbies: a mighty, merry force of witness and deterrence. We need more apprenticeships? Enough: on every building site, in every factory, at every workplace, let bands of experienced and horny-handed males pass on, with righteous self-importance, their lifetime’s knowledge to the skill-less and unfathered yoof. Let bands of de-retired matrons patrol the wards of our hospitals, hunting out the corners where MRSA and incompetence lurk.

Let London’s legions of Slovakian nannies yield up their rooms to elderly relatives who, if they are fit enough to bugger about down at the gym, can damn well help out with their own bloody grandchildren, not as a favour but because the government that pays them tells them to do so or else.

At a time when there are far more scary things than boredom, the family shall be reborn; the generations reconnected; the country saved. And the eternal adolescents shall finally, whether they like it or not, redeem themselves through that least teenage of notions: duty.