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The rich get old, but only the old get rich

Blog | By Auberon Waugh | Feb 04, 2019


An extract from Auberon Waugh's column 'Rage'. Here he is on the 'cocaine-soaked' advertising industry, Mencap and the lack of inter-generational cash flow in Britain.

A recent study of the movement of wealth in Britain confirmed what I have constantly argued, that the vast sums which pass by inheritance every year — last year amounting to an unprecedented £16 billion, against £6.8 billion five years ago — do not represent a net loss of oldies’ wealth because they pass, for the most part, into the possession of younger oldies. As Steven Bell, chief economist for Morgan Grenfell, explained: ‘The typical age when people receive this inheritance money is 50, meaning a massive transfer of funds to people at a time when they don’t need it. The kids [children] have left home, the mortgage is paid off and the beneficiaries are still working. This ultimately means more people enjoying a wealthier retirement than ever before.’

As I never tire of pointing out, it is not just that 78 per cent of privately owned wealth and 62 per cent of free, disposable income now belong to the over-50s. Nice Mr Major’s vision of a nation whose riches ‘cascade down the generations’ is accurate, with the one proviso that the generations must wait until they are 50 to cash in. The obstinacy with which London’s flabby, cocaine-soaked advertising industry persists in addressing itself to the jeans-and- Pepsi-Cola brigade would be comical if it did not have such a deleterious effect on our serious newspapers. What single reader of the Daily Telegraph or the much-improved Times asked to have Technikolor on the front page? Whom do they suppose they are pleasing? We have no choice. We have to take one or the other, if not both. Since the Independent turned into a neurotic modern woman’s medical dictionary, the Times and the Telegraph have a complete monopoly on serious news.

There is a pathetic belief among newspapers — as among bankers and everyone else — that if they can catch their customers young, they will stay with them for life. This is nonsense. Most people of all ages switch their custom many times, often several times a year. I, for instance, have just cancelled the Independent, except on Saturdays. Among the popular Sundays, I have cancelled the Sunday Sport in favour of the Mail on Sunday, although I am not sure why. Where the Times and Telegraph are concerned, they should studiously ignore anyone under the age of 40. There can be no excuse for having colour on the front page except when minorities are rioting in the United States, setting fire to things. That, I agree, is usually more amusing in colour.

People may object to the way we use the generic term ‘oldie’ to mean anyone over the age of 50, embracing the ‘justice in fair round belly with good capon lin’d’ as well as the ‘lean and slipper’d pantaloon’, even if we draw a veil over the second childishness and mere oblivion. Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans Oldie magazine, I rather fear.

An example of the importance people attach to names is available in the present row about Mencap, the Royal Society for Mentally Handicapped Children and Adults, chaired by Brian Rix (now Lord Rix of Whitehall), the comedy actor. Rix is in serious trouble from People First, a ‘national network of support groups’, after an advertising campaign which has prompted a campaign of leaflets and letters of complaint to MPs. Rix’s crime was to use the expression ‘mental handicap’, now found offensive and insulting because it emphasises the limitations of people so afflicted rather than glorifying their achievements. The Department of Health announced last June that it was stopping use of the term ‘mental handicap’ in response to such lobbying. It now refers to ‘people with learning disabilities’. Even this may be judged too hurtful, eventually. In the United States they prefer the phrase ‘intellectually challenged’.

I have little interest in Mencap, finding Rix’s manners odious ever since he yelled at me for some politically incorrect usage or other. But I have a great interest in the English language. The expression ‘mental handicap’ itself always struck me as a ‘politically correct’ euphemism, obfuscating as it does the real distinction between various degrees of this affliction. Just as ‘oldie’ covers what Shakespeare described as the ‘fair round belly’ of middle age as well as the ‘lean and slipper’d pantaloon’ and the second childishness and mere oblivion, so ‘mental handicap’ covers at least three degrees of what may still be known in the jargon of the caring professions as the Jolliffe Brigade or NFMS (‘Not Fit for Military Service’). There is no politically correct distinction between these categories, which are identified in the hurtful, unsanitised English of the common man as loonies, dafties and thickos. Use of these expressions will no doubt soon carry a fine, but at least those who still dare to use them know what is being talked about.

Rix’s point, as I understand it, is that nobody is going to cough up in support of a charity for ‘people with learning disabilities’, let alone for the ‘intellectually challenged’, whereas Mentally Handicapped Children and Adults pull in (according to the Sunday Times) £50m a year. I take his point, but I would respond more generously to even plainer English. ‘Pity the poor simpleton.’ But I suppose he knows his own business.