Monday, 31 August 2009

The Welfare Time Bomb

Last week I mentioned that we are sitting on a massive Pension issue here in the UK and that it isn't going to get any better as this year, for the first time in the last 10, our population grew because the rate of births exceeded that of deaths and overtook immigration as the primary cause of population expansion in Britain.

We now have 61.4m living here and 791,000 births took place in the UK last year, with a trend, for the first time in a while, that younger people are contributing more. As an increasing share of the population gets older and so drains the Welfare State on health grounds and burdens us with paying state pensions for longer, we have other issues at the new born end to contend with.

Not least, that many births puts its own strain on the NHS and other parts of the Welfare System. But an interesting fact is that a quarter of all those births were from parents who were not born in Britain so immigration was, in fact, again the largest contributor to population growth after all. William Hague famously fought and lost an election campaign on the immigration issue and tried to make it a political, not racial, debate. He failed and was laughed out by the Blair spin merchants who claimed he was barking up the wrong tree. But how wrong was he?

Studies show that the optimum population for Britain to get sensible well being is between 17m and 27m and this is based on studies, albeit mainly subjective, across the globe of countries who enjoy relatively low density pockets of population. The US came top rather oddly as you wouldn't think their inner cities showed a great deal of social well being or the murder rate wouldn't suggest such either. As with many pieces of Government funded, utopian work, the study is a bit previous unless we want to embark on a program of selective extermination as there are roughly 2-3 times the optimum number of people here already. And the population is rising - at around 0.7% per annum and this is three times the rate of the 1980's.

So as our tax take drops, in recent months by as much as 20%, as corporates currently make less and less people are working, and this figure is expected to fall further as unemployment homes in on 3m, we have a massive time bomb ticking at both ends of the spectrum. More babies are being born at a faster rate than before while we are living longer. The Welfare State as it stands and is funded today, simply will fall over in the very near future. Oh, and there is another, minor problem, that may disappear in 2032 - we have much increased borrowing as a nation as we have pledged so much into the failed banking system, which wasn't exactly planned for.

Put in those simple terms, we have a major problem facing Britain. It's all very well to moan about immigration being an issue but it's a done deal. In fact, if anything, more people are leaving than arriving now. Perhaps they can see the problem better than the rest of us. The Welfare System will implode - and we are not that far away.

We talk, this year, of a lost generation of youth as young people have been disproportionately been hit harder by the recession in terms on unemployment than older people. We are also talking of raising the retirement age, as we cannot afford the state pension payments for longer living people, to 68 and even 70, which only postpones the problem. But it creates a huge problem for young people arriving on the job market - what chances do they have of getting a good start to their career and what chance do they have of progression if older people stay in senior roles progressively longer?

The answer may actually see Britain suffer a 'brain drain' much as Ireland experienced some years ago. But it is different for Britain as we have a dense and ageing population and we don't have generous payouts by the EC to help incentivise companies to relocate here. In fact, we are becoming a less attractive proposition as our employment laws fall into line with Europe and greater strain will go on employers to retain, potentially, less flexible staff for longer who will require senior levels of pay and benefits. Meanwhile, at the bottom end, we will see a greater onus on employers to put greater provision aside for pensions for new staff as time goes on. What happens next may already be occurring as this week BT, one of the largest employers in Britain, announced that it had suspended its graduate entrant scheme - while many others have cut back the number of graduate entrants.

There is now the standing joke that the best prospects of a career start for many new graduates are call centres - what a training ground for Britain's best talent.

What the credit crunch and recession has done is to bring the underlying issues into stark focus for us all but we have yet to understand the implications. It comes to stupid things like this - as we fight two major wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, we have stopped our Army Reserves, the TAs, from training with live rounds while regulars also have seen their training with live ammunition be cut back in order to cut costs. We have systematically reduced the Armed Forces and its capability at a time when it has been most utilised since WWII. But such stupidity is now prevalent at all levels with retirement ages increasing while unemployment in the young is peaking.

What it all boils down to is that the Master Plan set out by this Government, underpinned by a Fiscal Policy that relied out a banking system that had to continue to grow way beyond the actual growth of the nation, was fundamentally and catastrophically flawed. I don't know if any other Political Party could have done or will do any better - in fact, I severely doubt it given their absurd utterances - but I do know that the whole New Labour Project was built on bright ideas by 'champagne charlies' who thought if they talked a good story rather than execute the plans sensibly, the whole world would just go along with them.

Well, they have got us into a hopeless situation that isn't going to get any better until they get their priorities right and they address the real issues of this nation rather than pandering to the whims of a small number of incredibly wealthy people because they only want the world set up to serve them.

It could not be further from the make up of the Labour Party. It could not be further from what this country needs.

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