Despite the lurid headlines, opinion is mixed on the so-called granny tax.
The Tory-Lib Dem Government’s decision to phase out age-related personal tax allowances was portrayed as an assault on pensioners, which will cause some real hardship. At the same time, the record increase in the state pension was largely ignored. This means that many will be no worse off. And in truth, the move to phase out the additional tax-free sum for older people will hurt those heading for the golden years more than current recipients. Given that retirement age is now a moveable feast upwards, in some ways, this makes sense. Why should you be allowed to keep more of your earned income tax free than say, young couples with children just starting out?
But as someone who is now closer to retirement age – however far the carrot is dangled away from me – than I am to my twenties, these things start to cause concern. Ageing is a scary enough prospect without the added pressure of realising that old age is going to be pitiful. More of us in our late 40s and 50s still have dependents, not least with the numbers either in education until much later or languishing on the unemployment scrapheap, and the need to keep on earning well into our 60s has become a necessity rather than a luxury. We’re the ones with huge mortgage millstones, laughable pension provision and eyewatering levels of personal debt.
By the time we get there, not only will penury be all the rage again, but free personal care, free bus travel, winter fuel allowances and all the rest will no doubt have been scaled back too. The sentiment in the Who’s My Generation suddenly starts to make sense.
Especially when current unemployment rates among the over 50s are taken into consideration. All the brouhaha has been about the lost generation, the under 25s who appear to have been dumped first out of jobs and with few prospects of getting one. Governments here and there have focused hugely on measures to get young people into training, education and employment: saving the lost generation has become the big political theme of this economic downturn. What is happening at the other end of the demographic scale has been largely ignored. As Owen Jones said, if under 25s are the lost generation, the over 50s have become the forgotten generation.
A peek at the figures for over 50s employment in Scotland highlights some worrying trends. In the UK, 15% of the claimant count is made up of over 50s: in Scotland, it is slightly higher at 16%. But this masks huge geographical differences, as the table below showing claimant count rates by Scottish parliamentary constituency for February 2012, indicates:
|Area||Total number of claimants||Total number of claimants aged over 50||As % of total|
|spca11:Aberdeen South and North Kincardine||960||165||17|
|spca11:Airdrie and Shotts||2,835||430||15|
|spca11:Angus North and Mearns||1,155||220||19|
|spca11:Argyll and Bute||1,570||375||24|
|spca11:Banffshire and Buchan Coast||1,390||205||15|
|spca11:Caithness, Sutherland and Ross||1,550||335||22|
|spca11:Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley||2,665||380||14|
|spca11:Clackmannanshire and Dunblane||2,095||280||13|
|spca11:Clydebank and Milngavie||2,405||385||16|
|spca11:Coatbridge and Chryston||2,465||340||14|
|spca11:Cumbernauld and Kilsyth||1,940||295||15|
|spca11:Dundee City East||2,755||410||15|
|spca11:Dundee City West||2,910||380||13|
|spca11:Edinburgh Northern and Leith||3,020||435||14|
|spca11:Na h-Eileanan an Iar||575||190||33|
|spca11:Ettrick, Roxburgh and Berwickshire||1,385||250||18|
|spca11:Galloway and West Dumfries||1,890||305||16|
|spca11:Glasgow Maryhill and Springburn||3,830||525||14|
|spca11:Greenock and Inverclyde||3,005||460||15|
|spca11:Hamilton, Larkhall and Stonehouse||2,580||340||13|
|spca11:Inverness and Nairn||1,550||260||17|
|spca11:Kilmarnock and Irvine Valley||3,230||510||16|
|spca11:Mid Fife and Glenrothes||2,345||355||15|
|spca11:Midlothian North and Musselburgh||2,100||320||15|
|spca11:Midlothian South, Tweeddale and Lauderdale||1,840||315||17|
|spca11:Motherwell and Wishaw||3,165||435||14|
|spca11:North East Fife||1,100||215||20|
|spca11:Perthshire South and Kinrossshire||1,295||205||16|
|spca11:Renfrewshire North and West||1,460||255||17|
|spca11:Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch||1,310||300||23|
|spca11:Strathkelvin and Bearsden||1,600||265||17|
|spca11:Uddingston and Bellshill||2,745||430||16|
Normally, we’d expect to see higher unemployment rates in areas traditionally blighted – the largely urban areas, marked by longstanding employment issues, like North Lanarkshire or Glasgow, or where new employment has proved fairly transigent and insecure, like North Ayrshire and West Lothian. But it is rural areas suffering the worst proportion of joblessness among the over 50s – Aberdeenshire, Argyll and Bute, the Highlands, North East Fife, Orkney, Shetland and the Western Isles. Admittedly, the actual numbers are low, compared say to Glasgow where across all constituencies, there are well over 3000 over 50s claiming JSA, but these are areas where employment patterns and trends are more fixed. The industries are the same as they ever were, with considerable reliance on the public sector, so finding alternative employment is hard and there is little indication of where new jobs will come from.
Also of interest is the fact that these trends highlight that we have a truly national unemployment problem, particularly in relation to longterm unemployment. Where longterm claimant count is high among over-50s, it tends to be low among 18 to 24 year olds, and vice versa.
The first bar graph shows where claimant count among over 50s over 6 months is amongst the highest in Scotland. But youth unemployment tends to be lower than the national average. Note that long term youth unemployment is running much higher generally in Scotland.
The second bar graph shows where those constituencies with among the highest percentages of 18 – 24 year olds claiming for more than six months. In these constituencies, long term unemployment among over 50s tends to be on or below the national average.
So we have a hard core of around twenty parliamentary constituencies with much higher than average unemployment over the longterm, affecting different demographic groups.
But perhaps most worryingly of all, there are a distinct number of constituencies where longterm claimant count is higher than the national average at both ends of the demographic extreme. This third bar graph shows which ones these are:
These are the constituencies and areas which should be causing most concern to policy-makers. Yet, only one of these areas – Caithness – has received special treatment in the budget with the announcement about Nigg qualifying for investment tax breaks.
And while the numbers are perhaps lower in some of these constituencies in terms of actual people affected by longterm unemployment, we should be worried about the trend. There will be some households without a single person in work and worse, with its members now out of work for more than six months. While the older members might never work again, the younger members might never work at all.
A whole new generation of workless households might well be being created. A lost and forgotten generation, in fact.
with thanks to Stephen Boyd at the STUC for introducing the burd to a whole new world of data geekery through the ONS Nomis tool for calculating detailed breakdowns of labour market statistics – free to use to all who dare to dwell…