Saturday, 20 July 2019

Brexit: decline and fall


I occupy an unusual space in the Brexit continuum. I don't think we should leave without a deal but I sort of don't care if we do. I will continue to point out why it's bad news and why Brexiters are wrong about EU trade but at this point, with no hope of salvaging the situation I might as well give in to my inner nihilist and say let the chips fall where they may.

I've felt this way for a while because I don't think remaining in the EU leaves us any better off in the long run. We could actually be worse off if we remain. Don't get me wrong, I'm not about to tell you how leaving the EU on WTO terms frees us to do "bumper deals" with the rest of the world. I don't take you for stupid. I just ask you to consider for a moment that not all is well with the status quo. Here I point you to blog extract from 2017.
A report in today's Telegraph has it that the number of "silver renters" in England is set to treble to a million, analysis of official data shows, as more people are leaving it too late to buy their first home. According to analysis carried out by campaign group Generation Rent, the number of private renter households in England headed by someone aged 65 or older is set to increase from 370,000 in 2015-16 to 995,000 by 2035-36. The rise will come as the result of more people reaching their forties without having made their first step onto the housing ladder, at which point it becomes increasingly difficult to get a mortgage, the report said.
Meanwhile, other reports indicate that about 15 million people have no pension savings and face a bleak future in retirement. The Financial Lives survey of 13,000 consumers by the FCA, the biggest of its kind, found that 31% of UK adults have no private pension provision and will have to rely entirely on the state in their retirement. The full state pension is £159.55 per week, but that is only available to individuals who have a complete record of national insurance contributions.
Of particular worry is the group of people aged over 50 who are not paying into a pension and have few years left to build one up before they reach their 60s. When the FCA asked why they had made no provision, 32% said it was too late to set one up, 26% said they could not afford it and 12% said they were relying on their partner’s pension. Auto-enrolment has brought millions of people into pension saving for the first time, but millions of self-employed and part-time workers are not in the scheme. Then turning to another report in The Guardian we see that British workers can expect among the worst pensions in the developed world. This is as councils are set to spend more than 40% of their budgets on adult social care.
Piling on the woes, we then get this from The Guardian yesterday.
More than 600,000 members of so-called ‘Generation Rent’ are facing an “inevitable catastrophe” of homelessness when they retire, according to the first government inquiry into what will happen to millennials in the UK who have been unable to get on the housing ladder as they age. People’s incomes typically halve after retirement. Those in the private rented sector who pay 40% of their earnings in rent could be forced to spend up to 80% of their income on rent in retirement. If rents rise at the same rate as earnings, the inquiry found that 52% of pensioners in the private rental sector will be paying more than 40% of their income on rent by 2038. 
This will mean that at least 630,000 millennials are unable to afford their rent. They will find themselves homeless or with no choice but to move into temporary accommodation, at the state’s expense, according to the report by the all-party parliamentary group on housing and care for older people. The report also forecasts that, in terms of quality of accommodation, the number of older households living in unfit and unsuitable private rented accommodation could leap from about 56,000 to 188,000 in 20 years’ time and to 236,500 in 30 years’ time. And it warns that the UK is headed towards an ‘inevitable catastrophe for the pensioners of tomorrow”.
These are massive problems and they have major secondary implications for the wealth of the nation. We are sitting on a time bomb. And being that my instincts on this sort of thing are usually pretty good, I think it will pop a lot sooner than anticipated.

Here you might ask what does any of this have directly to do with the EU? You can argue not a lot, or you can argue that the EU in many subtle but important ways neuters democracy, diverts resources and places constraints on what government national and local can do, to the point where we have a managerial culture in government that never steps over the invisible boundaries and wouldn't have the imagination to do so. I could argue a convincing case but it's really down to which side you stand on as to whether you buy it.

Supposing we did start building houses to an extent that outsrips demand, that's not actually solving a great deal. Look at the building currently going on. Massive expansion of Didcot and developments all the way through Cambridgeshire all the way up to Wisbech. London commuter belt - to channel evermoor people into London each day on creaking infrastructure - to face longer commutes if they stand any chance of an affordable mortgage.

It is difficult then to see how people can start saving for their old age and, or even a deposit for that matter. But even then the problem is more nuanced. My generation and those that follow lack the austere mindset of our recent ancestors and have expectations of a decent life without having to save. There are more temptations than ever, more booby traps like car finance, and greater availability of luxuries. I'm not in the least bit surprised that the natives are outperformed by immigrant labour which is often willing to work for less and make greater sacrifices in standard of living.

That, though, brings us to the central questions... is it fair, and is is sustainable? No and no. We can keep infilling the south east, placing ever more burdens on the transports and water infrastructure, not forgetting the energy demands that go with it, but we are not going to keep pace thus the structural problems outlined above are unlikely to be addressed. Moreover, we have multiple crises emerging in terms of access to GPs, access to justice, schools and access to elderly care. It's no use adding thousands of homes to commuter belt ruralshire if there are no school places or GP surgeries.

But then the problems are not strictly economic either. Everyone complains about politicians at the moment for being lazy, venal, incompetent and thick, but actually, I don't think they are a breed apart. They just the product of the society we live in. An overly indulged, self-absorbed, selfish and privileged society all too used to do as we please assuming someone else picks up the tab. We keep complaining about the politicians but we still go out and vote for whichever hapless biped on the basis of their rosette colour. Just look at Peterborough. The deposed MP is a lying criminal and is replaced by a thicko antisemite from the same party. That Boris Johnson is about to become PM ought to ring alarm bells.

I actually think civics and citizenship as a concept has collapsed in British society. On occasion I am accused of having a rose tinted view of the past and I am sufficiently self-aware to know there is some truth in that, but I still think we have a more transient, atomised and selfish culture. People park where they like, fly tipping is epidemic, and generally people would prefer to dump granny on the council than look after their own.

Speaking of councils, local government has also lost it. These days I don't even answer the door because it's going to be either a Crapita goon pretending to be a TV inspector or a council bailiff for some or other fine or forfeiture. Just recently a couple of thugs in stab proof vests impersonating police officers because a snowflake was offended by a tweet.

More worryingly we are increasingly seeing politics done through the courts, ranging from petty political vendettas to matter of national importance from Brexit to the NHS. That's indicative of something and it's not good. Then there's the media. Worthy of a much longer discussion but just when you think it couldn't get any more asinine and banal they go and prove that it could, by a country mile. A healthy democracy cannot function this way.

I wish I could say this was the ranting of a middle aged fart, but I'm only just forty and I've thought much of this for several years now. This litany of grumbles is not exactly new to my readers. I think we are seeing a slow motion implosion of British society - and it is connected to EU membership - and it it really shows when you start to look at the details of governance where the basics are only just functioning and won't withstand another shock like 2008. 

But, says the remainer, there is no way we can address these issues if we vote to make ourselves poorer by leaving the EU. But the problem is only partly financial. It is also a question of whether we have the political talent to bring to bear on these problems. You know the answer to that.

This is part of an ongoing discussion on this blog as to whether Brexit really is the political reboot I hope it will be. On some days I'm optimistic but on other days not so much. But I do know one thing that's an absolute certainty. Remaining in the EU would see a very rapid reversion to business as usual. The worst crop of MPs in living memory -  they who utterly failed at every milestone in the Brexit process, they who just voted to give pensions to IRA terrorists, will go back to their usual routine as though nothing ever happened - and back to their usual virtue signalling indulgences.

There are four basic points to make here.

1. The economic model is not working.
2. The political model is not working.
3. For us to have a functioning economic model we must first have functioning politics.
4. Remaining in the EU sees one and two worsening with no resolution in sight.

We are approaching a societal cliff edge as much as an economic one. So I have to ask, what has the status quo done for me lately?

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