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How ugly scourge of ageism after Brexit is a slur on our older people

Published 29/06/2016

Angry voices: young people protest against the results of the European Referendum (there is no suggestion that people in these photographs have made derogatory remarks about elderly people). Photo credit should read: Nick Ansell/PA Wire
Angry voices: young people protest against the results of the European Referendum (there is no suggestion that people in these photographs have made derogatory remarks about elderly people). Photo credit should read: Nick Ansell/PA Wire
Angry voices: young people protest against the results of the European Referendum (there is no suggestion that people in these photographs have made derogatory remarks about elderly people). Photo credit should read: Nick Ansell/PA Wire
Angry voices: young people protest against the results of the European Referendum (there is no suggestion that people in these photographs have made derogatory remarks about elderly people). Photo credit should read: Nick Ansell/PA Wire
Ageing debate: Chelsea pensioners leave a polling station last week
Malachi O'Doherty
Mary Johnston

After the EU referendum some young people have hurled abuse at pensioners, accusing them of robbing them of their future. Malachi O'Doherty and Mary Johnston say the younger generation need to show some respect.

Malachi O'Doherty: 'It's discomforting to be now thought of as irrelevant'

A new divide has broken open after the Brexit vote. Not just the obvious one between those who wanted to stay in the EU and those who wanted out.

Not just a class divide between the disgruntled poor who have been through the wringer of austerity and those who put them there.

Not just a divide between the British who claimed their country back and the migrants who hadn't actually taken it from them but were getting the blame for its problems.

Now we have a generation divide.

I am on one side of that. I am 65, therefore, apparently, I am a crusty old bigot who shouldn't have had a vote equal to that of a youngster's because, as one blogger bluntly put it, I'm going to be dead before long anyway. I shouldn't therefore be allowed to help share a future I won't be part of.

I am a baby boomer, born in the years immediately after the Second World War and the lifting of rationing, when people married with hope again and eagerly started families after years of fear and separation.

My mother and father were in their 30s when they got married and got down to baby making pretty promptly, six in eight years. Good on them.

They didn't think they were bequeathing to the world a disruptive generation.

The Generation Gap was much talked about in the Sixties, when I was 15. We had long hair that annoyed our parents and listened to music they couldn't stand. Fathers, who had been through the war, sneered at their own sons and their tastes. 'You don't know what a day's work is.'

And while the generation that survived the war was sullen and grieving, the first generation not to have those dark memories seemed frivolous but hugely hopeful.

The transistor radio, the mini (skirt and car) and the reefer were made for us. And we had our anthems from Dylan and Lennon. Having started out so radically and so well, it is a bit discomfiting to be now thought superfluous and politically irrelevant. Yet that is what young people are saying in the blogs.

Vox.com says: "Not content with racking up insurmountable debt, not content with destroying any hopes of sustainable property prices or stable career paths, not content with enjoying the benefits of free education and generous pension schemes before burning down the ladder they climbed up, the baby boomers have given one last turd on the doorstep of the younger generation."

So it's the old people who are to blame. We broke the banks.

This is hard to hear for a revolutionary generation which marched in protest against the Vietnam War, against nuclear weapons, against the denial of civil rights.

From the comfort of my armchair I can now smugly bemoan the lassitude of the modern student and say like the fathers of my own generation did, 'You don't know what you're talking about.'

Where was the massive street activism of the moaning young in defence of the European Union? While we're being ageist about it, what has this generation of students contributed by way of political energy, new ideas, protest and gumption?

Where were the protests against the abolishing of student grants? It wasn't my generation that pulled the ladder up, it was governments. With far more students now than in my day, the scale of protest might have been monumentally greater, but it was a whimper. Yet young people, who have been so politically inert, have the cheek to blame pensioners for creaming off their wealth from the economy.

My state pension is worth £123 a week. It is devised at that rate on the presumption that I can live off that. Those who have nothing in addition to that have to choose during the winter whether to heat or eat; they can't do both.

Yet the pensioners are now being cast in the role of the smug villains who bled the country for their current wealth and now dumped it out of Europe to finally kill off what hope the young had. I'd like to see the young claim some hope for themselves instead of moaning so passively.

My generation was 25 in the Seventies, getting their first taste of work during the three-day week and the power cuts.

Below them were the unemployed young of Thatcher's wasteland who invented punk. Already the augurs were poor for this music wasn't a patch on what we had.

We were the 30-somethings in the Eighties.

Some thrived on the Loadsamoney culture, the Thatcherite vision of individual effort and minimal state support.

That suited me not too badly; for this was the age of the self-employed, the independent operator. I haven't had an actual job since but I haven't been on the dole since then either.

In the Nineties we were in our 40s, buying houses before the property boom. I bought my first house in 1992 for £22,000.

I was lucky enough to get a Mickey Mouse mortgage because, being self-employed on low income I wasn't going to get a real one.

I didn't know that the financial shenanigans that got me onto the property ladder would bring global calamity in the Noughties.

Since I paid over the odds for it I'm not going to take the blame.

The Noughties brought city breaks in Eastern Europe and put Polish waitresses in UK hotels. They also brought war, though we were able mostly to ride it out at home with little sense it was happening at all.

They also brought a realisation that lessons learned in past wars, whether Vietnam or here, are not carried forward by the following generation.

And in the Twenty-teens this baby boomer cleared his mortgage and took his measly pension and voted to stay in Europe, appalled at the political ineptitude of politicians almost young enough to be his children.

It wasn't the baby boomers who broke the UK; it was David Cameron (born in 1966), Arlene Foster (born in 1970), Boris Johnston (born in 1964), Nigel Farage (born in 1964).

Had they listened to wiser older heads like Ken Clarke (born in 1940) and others, they might have acted differently.

But age is no definer of either competence or responsibility. On the other hand, devaluing the old because they have fewer years left, and introducing into our political discourse the evil idea that their votes should count for less, is an idea that could only have come from the feckless and irresponsible young.

Mary Johnston: ‘My generation is being vilified... I feel like something of a social pariah’

Thank heavens I still have my faculties with me. I can still cross the road unassisted, can carry heavy shopping bags to the car and, yes, still drive. My hands are not so arthritic that I wasn’t able to place my ‘X’ exactly where I wanted it last Thursday during the EU referendum vote. I could not believe the news I woke up to next day. I felt shocked and nervous about us moving into uncharted territory.

I’ve barely ventured out since Friday’s results and am only thankful for the respite afforded by the Euros and especially our teams’ great efforts.

Now, though, I feel like something of a social pariah and my generation is being vilified simply because of the demographic into which we fit.

Many young people have claimed it’s all our fault, that it was us who voted to Leave. It’s different, of course, here in Northern Ireland where the majority of people voted to stay, so it’d be hard to call who voted In or Out, but the general consensus is that Brexit is a generational thing.

That or a being ‘thick’ thing if you read the comments on Facebook. Not everybody who chose Out is uneducated and inward looking, just as not everyone who opted to Remain is enlightened and right.

There’s no place for smugness or self­-righteousness in either case.

Never have I witnessed such doom and gloom, woes and warnings and even despair about the outcome of a referendum. Yes, it’s undoubtedly a monumental decision that will lead to unrest and uncertainty. Whether it’s what you wanted or not — and most people here didn’t want to leave — now it’s a fait accompli (get me still using French after the event).

Now, I’m trying to be pragmatic and even optimistic and it’s not easy against the tide of hand-wringing all around me.

Yes, I can hear you saying ‘it’s alright for you and your lot, you’ve had your life’, but we more mature folk have children and grandchildren, too, and care about them more than ourselves right now.

Look, it’s going to take years for the outcome to fully unfold.

Try to take the ongoing scare­mongering with a pinch of salt. It was bad before the vote and as bad since with predictions of economic disaster, racism, lack of job security, housing problems. People have even learned the meaning of xenophobia.

For weeks before we were bombarded with ‘facts’ from both parties. The Remains extolled the virtues, benefits and strengths of being part of a strong European Union. Their experts seemed civilised and reasonable with a cogent argument for staying. We get more out than we put in, they said — £10 out for every £1 put in. Put me down for £1,000.

‘We’ll be stronger as part of this European family working together for the common good’. Who could argue with that?

Meanwhile, the Leave lot were certainly more vociferous and their £350m per week was what rang loud in everybody’s ear.  Okay, it was substantially reduced to a mere £160m. But only under analysis in a TV studio.

We all realise there are three kinds of lies, lies, damned lies and statistics and it appears it’s a requisite qualification for any politician to be able to tell lies. I’m certainly not a fan of MEPs being paid so much; £78,000 and a non-contributory pension scheme. They also receive around £230 a day subsistence pay while away on business and don’t need receipts for expenses incurred.

Think of the money we’ll save there.

People in the poorer regions around England feel threatened by the immigration problem.

Their health service is under pressure due to the growth in population and so are school places.

It’s a fact that resources are being used to pay interpreters for the hundreds for whom English is not their first language.

But it is these same people who feel marginalised by the posh boys in politics who seem to come from a different world.

Talking about different worlds, we have to accept that many of the would-be Europeans do come from a very different world culturally speaking.

I feel sorry for those poor people in the fishing villages and towns around the coast and can only hope their loyalty, desire to protect the sovereignty and want a form of home rule, has not been misplaced.

I also feel for the poor immigrants here who contribute so valuably to our economy and for those who risk life and limb to get here. I consider myself extremely fortunate to come from this part of the world and wish only for what’s best for future generations.

Wouldn’t it be good if we were to seize this new scenario and try to make the most of it.

My youngest daughter rang me from Australia last night and asked if I was reeling from the Brexit result. She offered to send me a video of a professor of European Law and Policy discussing the implications for the UK now.

She said it’s all that everyone is talking about in Oz at the moment. I’ve received sympathy messages on Facebook from family who live in America.

Isn’t that rich considering what’s happening there?

All we need is for Boris to become Prime Minister and see if the Americans can Trump that one.

What three older voters think about fallout over the referendum

TV and radio presenter Gloria Hunniford (76), originally from Portadown, lives in England with her second husband Stephen Way. Her daughter Caron died from breast cancer and she has two grown-up sons, Paul and Michael. She says:

The idea of the younger generation blaming older people for the UK leaving the EU isn’t very fair and it’s probably a knee-jerk reaction to the whole thing.

Generationally speaking, young people have had it pretty good in the last few years — interest rates have gone down so it’s been easier to get a good mortgage deal. Meanwhile, older people are now watching the money they’ve saved hard their entire lives fail to grow due to rock-bottom interest rates.

Us older folk have also worked to put money into pensions, only to see them almost wiped out overnight when the Out result was announced.

I voted Remain in the referendum and I’m heartbroken by the result.

Last Friday I had a knot in my stomach and felt sick all day. It’s a backward step for the UK.

I’ve enjoyed being part of Europe and wanted it to stay that way, so it’s difficult to look at things from an Out point of view. I think this choice could be very isolating for the UK.

The people who have voted Out were actually quite ignorant about the repercussions of their vote.”

Model agent Maureen Martin (60s), is married to Robin and they have three grown-up children: Karen, Tanya and Suzan. She says:

From a business point of view I can’t see things changing much at the minute despite the UK voting to leave the EU. It’s going to take months if not years for any real change to come from Brexit.

While I took part in the referendum, I don’t talk about the direction I voted in. I work with a lot of young people and, of course, they don’t have the experience I’ve gained over the years.

But I’m not going to criticise them and they haven’t criticised me. We’re all in it now so we will all have to wait and see what happens next.”

Rita Murray (74) is retired and lives in Belfast. She says:

Having retired aged 62, I now work in the voluntary sector as chair of both the West Belfast 50-plus Group and the G6 Seniors Group, the latter of which covers all of Belfast. Previously, I had worked in the Sterile Unit at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast and was a nanny in America during the Sixties.

The groups I am involved with now run campaigns such as winter warmer events twice a year and lobby politicians and organisations to improve life for pensioners. 

I voted Out in the referendum.

Prior to the result, many younger people had speculated that an Out vote would hike up the cost of mortgages and jobs would be lost, but I think things will be better for us if we have a free global trade agreement rather than just in Europe.

I am confident about the UK leaving the EU — even if it takes a few years to be resolved.

There was a lot of scaremongering before the vote and now the whole thing seems to have taken over our lives. Some young people have criticised the older generation, blaming them for the Out result, but everybody has a right to vote whatever way they want.

It’s a matter of choice and, while I understand they’re thinking of their future, senior citizens have a wealth of expertise and shouldn’t be dismissed as selfish or stupid.

Some young people are as angry at themselves as older people. Since the Out result, there have been many young people admitting on TV and radio interviews that they didn’t think the whole thing through when they voted.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing — but everyone had the chance to vote and do something about the outcome.”

Belfast Telegraph

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