I have a soft spot for nightclubs and live music venues — I started my business career at 18 running one. Unfortunately, this government is likely to sign a death warrant for the industry by preventing them from opening until next year.
That will obliterate trade over the most important season for late-night venues; a majority of discos, dance halls and the like will shut for good. This will destroy many thousands of jobs and entertainment destinations for huge numbers of locals and tourists.
Of course, few people over the age of 50 care about nightlife. They don’t go dancing until 3am and have little interest in new romantic involvements, but millions of twenty and thirtysomethings go out to listen to music and make new friends every week — or did, until lockdown. Festivals and parties are now stone dead. The risk for these age groups is extremely low: just 37 people aged under 40 without co-morbidities have died of Covid-19 in English hospitals. The median age of victims is about 79.
Yet it is the millennials and generation Z who are suffering much of the collateral damage from a pandemic that represents a minimal health threat to them. According to the Resolution Foundation, the young are more likely to lose their jobs and take reductions in pay. They work disproportionately in industries such as hospitality, travel and retailing, which are hardest hit. Unemployment and diminished work opportunities will scar their careers and earnings prospects for many years.
By contrast, those aged over 50 own about 85% of all net assets in Britain — mainly homes and pensions. Most are content to “WFH” — a rehearsal for retirement, as they say.
Thanks to enormous injections of liquidity into the economy by the government, the values of equities and homes have held up despite the crisis. So young people will continue to find it prohibitively expensive to buy a home — and Nimby objections by the older generation help ensure that too few homes are built. Meanwhile, the entire nation funnels its resources towards the NHS. This lumbering leviathan is certain to absorb ever more taxpayer money in the coming years, as our obsession with Covid-19, and sickness in general, boosts its role in society. I estimate that it will cost more than £150bn this year, which is 160% of what we spend on education.
Any civilisation that spends far more on the care of its elderly than teaching its young is focused on the past, not the future. It is well known that most healthcare spending occurs in the last years of life — almost no one under 40 receives any direct benefit from the NHS because so few are ill. Moreover, long-term care and pensions absorb a further £120bn. An ever-growing proportion of welfare spending goes towards those aged over 60. By the time twenty and thirtysomethings reach retirement age, it is doubtful that the country will be able to afford such largesse.
A classic example of the selfishness of the middle-aged and middle classes are university lecturers. Their giant defined benefit pension scheme, USS, is likely to face a deficit of £15bn. The academics are unwilling to pay any more towards their pensions, and are wholly unwilling to suffer any reduction in benefits. So universities will have to pay an additional 10% contribution to their salaries — or face a strike — at a time when many are in trouble. In any event, the losers will be students, who will surely never enjoy such a pension.
It will be the young that have to deal with our national debt of £2 trillion and rising — sharply increased thanks to lockdown and the subsequent trashing of the economy. It is mostly the young losing jobs, being evicted from their rented homes and being told they cannot socialise with friends or lovers.
It is a big surprise to me that there hasn’t been more social unrest. In America, there have been extensive riots, arson and looting in dozens of cities — ostensibly in support of causes such as Black Lives Matter, but almost certainly exacerbated by the frustrations of lockdown and mass unemployment.
Our government relies on older voters and panders to this constituency while neglecting the young. We live in a gerontocracy in all but name. If the twenty and thirtysomethings here realise just what a poor deal they are getting, they too will surely take to the streets with Molotov cocktails.