Daily Blog

Can we really expect to live longer in the future?

By Simon Richardson (Editor)

Some days are diamonds, some days are stones. There’s probably a fair number of us who feel the balance has shifted away from the sparkly variety during the past seven months or so.

I started today in a decent mood. The sun was shining – even if the wind had an arctic chill – and my computer seemed to be working well – always a novelty.

Then I checked out the news from around the world and closer to home. From a starting point of relative contentment and optimism I’ve drifted into suffocating pessimism – not helped by the arrival of a tax bill. I’m now considering therapy.

 The news from the UK is gloomy at best, with the spectre of another total lockdown looming large. Elsewhere, nutty Trump believes he’s the new messiah after dodging the Covid bullet. That’s if he had the virus in the first place.

An interesting arrival in my inbox, which has done little to lighten my mood, was the Manx Government’s latest review of the Ageing Population Report. It begins all warm and cuddly and speaks of the value of older people to society, and how they (we) shouldn’t be considered as a burden.

Then, as you move past the foreword to the nitty gritty, the narrative changes with reference to the increasing pressure the older population will place on health and social care systems etc.

The original 2013 report contained a paragraph that has become the mantra of a host of right leaning think tanks ever since, when it highlighted ‘the need to challenge the assumption that people have ‘earned’ a right to a certain benefits by reason of having paid National Insurance or taxes throughout their lives, towards a culture where people are entitled to benefits and support as and when they require them.’

What has become apparent in recent times is that people should always be wary of placing their trust in governments. The shift in tone both here and elsewhere has changed subtly over a number of years. Pensioners, who in good faith, have made National Insurance contributions all their working lives, to fund their retirement pensions are now made to feel like parasites – feeding off the poor, younger generations. 

The knub of the ‘problem’ it seems is that we are all living longer. It’s true that average life expectancy has risen considerably in recent decades, but the assumption that the trend will continue needs to be challenged, before it’s factored into future projections on which further raids on pension rights are based.

The reality is that increases in life expectancy have come to a fairly abrupt end. The financial crash of 2008 and now the Coronavirus pandemic have changed the landscape drastically. The understandable focus on eradicating the virus and ensuring treatment is available for victims, has led to huge delays in treatments of a whole host of life-threatening conditions from heart disease to cancer. The long-term consequences don’t need explanation.

As for personal finances it’s not that long ago that we were all urged to save, save, save. That advice seems slightly absurd today given the Bank of England’s warning that we could be heading for negative interest. In very basic layman’s terms that means banks could charge us to hold our money rather than reward us for placing it in their care. (In truth such a scenario would probably only apply to depositors with considerable sums, given the political sensitivity of charging the proletariat).

Thieves and criminals will be changing their strategies in times to come – searching gardens for signs of disturbed earth and digging for buried treasure – rather than resorting to computer scams.

  There’s no getting away from the fact that the Manx Government is facing difficult challenges as the number of older people as a percentage of the total population, rises. One of the reasons for this has been its inability to stop the brain drain of young people from the Island. Serious failures to address infrastructure and societal reforms during the good times, have contributed to this age imbalance in the population. The over reliance on sweet mountain air, nice scenery and low crime rates as our primary marketing tool has failed to attract the numbers of dynamic, young entrepreneurs the economy needs. 

If the tone of today’s blog seems overly bleak let me lighten the mood. The Isle of Man is still a wealthy country. The Coronavirus has taken its toll, but unlike our nearest neighbours we have – through a collective effort – minimised its effect.

Our success in keeping the virus at bay hasn’t gone unnoticed. A new, higher level of interest in the Island is stirring. When the Coronavirus crisis finally ends, as it certainly will, we have a window of opportunity to re-charge the economy. We must all be prepared to grasp it. Maybe then the corrosive focus on what to do with our old people will become less of an issue.

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