Something more to say

Catherine Jackson, Deputy Editor of Therapy Today journal reacts to the Rt Rev Richard Chartres' recent comments about the baby-boomer generation:

Baby-boomer the Rt Rev Richard Chartres, the Bishop of London, thinks his generation is ‘absorbing’ a disproportionate share of this country’s welfare spending, and that this raises ‘questions – severe questions – of intergenerational equity’. He and his peers are, he seems to be suggesting, nothing more than greedy parasites sucking up the nation’s resources while younger generations pale and dwindle beneath the burden of their care.

It is surely deeply inappropriate, even for a baby boomer, to be setting one generation against another in an ugly scrap for the last crust of bread in the gutter? Surely what we should be aiming for is intergenerational collaboration – the risk-taking energy of youth and the wisdom of age and experience coming together to devise solutions and learn from each other?

I carried out a very small piece of further research on the theme of the Mental Health Foundation’s Getting on.... with life report by interviewing counsellors and psychotherapists of the baby boomer age group, for an article that was subsequently published in Therapy Today journal.

It was, I have to say, an inspiring experience. You would hope that people trained in the workings of the human psyche, whose jobs involve understanding and disentangling the complexities of dysfunctional human relationships, would have some insight into their own self as they stand on the brink of old age. And these interviewees did not disappoint. They were looking back, certainly, but mainly they were looking forward. All were appreciative of their good fortune in their early and middle lives and thankful for the education and health care that the state had provided from cradle to today, but – importantly – they were still full of life, literally; they had no plans to sink back into the armchair of retirement and wait for death while the pension pennies tumbled into their purses. Nor were they planning to head for sunnier climes to spend, spend, spend until their time or their money ran out. And they were all very aware of what makes for healthy ageing – keeping active and engaged, good friends, and a lively interest in new experiences and other people, of all generations.

They were all still working, despite some being past the formal retirement age. Some could not afford to stop earning; others felt strongly that they still had much to contribute. There was no sense that ‘society’ owed them a living for the rest of their days and they couldn’t wait to start taking it; far from it. Some were planning to continue post-retirement what they were doing now, in a voluntary capacity. For some, there was a sense that only now, in their late 60s, had they reached their peak of ability and they were not going to let it go to waste. ‘Settling into retirement isn’t part of my life plan. I have something to offer and I want to offer it,’ said one.

They were all university-educated, employed, professional, and middle class now, if not by birth, and, by definition, of a similar profession – the type of baby boomers most targeted for criticism. Yet there was also a deep sense that they had a duty to work with the next generation to manage the handover of responsibility (for their support and care, for the country’s economy, for the world’s environmental survival) in a constructive way. ‘We need to think about the legacy we are leaving the next generation and help them face the challenges, but at the same time we need to hand over control. We can’t hold onto things – we need to hand over the life projects, individually and collectively,’ said another.

There was also a strong sense that these individuals – male, female, gay, straight, black and white – felt strengthened, not injured, by their lives’ experiences and adversities. They none of them ‘felt their age’ – other than noting their body’s tendency to slow down and physically weaken with the advancing years.

So, while the Bishop London assumes a relationship of profligate dependency for himself and his peers, his peers may not agree. Where once retirement was seen as precisely that – retirement from life – others in his generation are thinking in terms of how and where they can contribute still, for their own health and wellbeing as well as that of society more widely and the national economy."

Catherine Jackson is Deputy Editor of Therapy Today journal.

Her article ‘Something more to say...’ can be downloaded here.