Many Happy Returns : too many?

According to the U.K.’s Office for National Statistics, more than a quarter of children now aged 16 can expect to see their hundredth birthday, which means a total of 3.3million. It’s estimated (and that’s all it can be – prediction is not the same as precision) that eleven million people who are alive today will reach the same age.

Following up this report in today’s ‘Guardian’, I discovered that an alliance of twelve countries exists (not including Spain I notice) called the International Longevity Centre. It’s common purpose is to understand and address the consequences of population ageing. The overarching aim is ‘to articulate a call to action from an interdisciplinary, intergenerational and life course perspective, promoting and highlighting the opportunities and challenges ageing presents to modern society’. An ambitious aim; how long will it be before the call is heard?

David Sinclair is the Centre’s head of policy and research in the U.

K. and he is reported as saying that life expectancy is a ‘huge societal success’ but it will comes at a price. There will be a ‘knock-on’ impact on younger people and ‘if the older population requires more and more resources it will have to come (and there’s a faintly sinister tone in what follows) ‘from their own wealth and assets or from somewhere else’. He foresees the possibility of intergenerational tensions if there is a clash of priorities between the young and the old.

The U.K’s Coalition Government Pensions Minister responds to this likely prospect with the rather inane and obvious comment that the state pension has to be made ‘fair and sustainable for future generations’ if people are likely to spend more than a third of their lives in retirement. A relevant observation no doubt, but with no hint of any sort of policy.

More than once in these blogs we have referred to the fact of longevity and how it will affect society. It continues to be widely discussed. There are University departments with their own professors working at the issue – the pros and cons for society, but also for the individual : long life without pleasure is no gift. But the whole thing is too often referred to as if it is merely a cloud on the horizon and one that haunts the future from a long way away, whereas it is a pressing situation that we should be addressing now.

Long-term thinking is hard work for politicians whose perspectives often last for the few years until the next election, but it’s on this issue, and on others such as climate change, sources of energy, world peace, the food supply etc, that they will be judged.