13 August, 2006

For sale

Margaret Thatcher, butcher of Grantham, milk snatcher and all-round bad egg, once professed her one driving desire was to turn the nation into a land of owners.

Property owners, share owners, private pension owners, second car owners - pretty much anything went. This, she reasoned, was the truest way of giving her citizens a stake in their country - as opposed to all those state-run nationalised industries like gas, water, electricity, oil, transport, coal, aeroplanes and telephones, which we all owned anyway, but she conveniently overlooked that point.

What's happened, however, is that my generation, which endured its formative years cowering under Thatcher's beady eye, is going to be the one that journeys through life actually owning less than any previous generation in, say, the last 100 years.

We'll be the ones who, proportionately, own less houses than our predecessors, own less pensions than our predecessors, who certainly own less material goods than our predecessors, and who quite probably own less actual money (in the form of real, concrete, reliable savings) than all our predecessors combined.

I'm taking about ownership outright. Of really and truthfully owning your own house, car, pension, stereo system, dishwasher, whatever. Consider, for instance, how the amount of personal debt racked up in Britain topped the one trillion mark last year. More people of my age group borrow more and have larger overdrafts than any other demographic. We're a nation living on the never-never!

Or consider how my generation has had to complete its education only by amassing thousands of pounds worth of debt in the bargain. Luckily I've made it this far through life without ever earning enough to have to start paying back my student loan. Unluckily, I breached the cut-off point when I moved to London, and now have month upon month and year upon year of deductions coming out of my bank account.

Which, incidentally, is the only account I have. I don't have a building society account, I don't have an ISA, I certainly never had what were once ludicrously called PEPs and TESSAs, I don't own any shares, I don't think I have any premium bonds (though I'm not grumbling if I do), I don't even - get this - own a credit card.

This isn't through some Luddite aversion to new-fangled gimmicks and gizmos. It's just that I've never felt myself able to embrace, never thought myself in need of embracing, any of them.

Equally I've no idea when I'll be in a position to open a private pension, though fuck knows I'll need to given the way the economy is being run. I've never had a work or company pension either. It's not the sort of thing that keeps me awake every night - just some of them.

I hate being in debt to someone - something - else, from my landlord to my bank to my mum and dad. Neither a borrower nor a lender be runs the saying, which is a pretty puritanical, not to say selfish, creed. At the same time I wonder what level of respect my generation will, in time, come to show towards a country and a political establishment in which it has precious little invested, of which it can own even less, and with which it has practically nothing in common.


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