A few weeks ago, I chaired a debate in Westminster about the falling birth rate and its implications. It was organised by the Centre for Social Justice, which I’ve long been proudly involved with. Miriam Cates, a Tory MP, was on the panel as was Rosie Duffield, a Labour MP. But when I arrived, Duffield had pulled out: she had taken so much abuse and threats from those furious that she would attend this debate that she felt she could not continue. The debate, quite plainly, is one many people would rather never took place and I look at it in my Daily Telegraph column today.
While populists have embraced this argument, there is nothing populistic about it. These are issues about the future, shape and structure of our societies – and whether the declining birth rate threatens the future of the welfare state. My own view is that it does, and we’re living a lie by assuming that there will be a massive workforce around to generate tax to support the pensions and related NHS expenditure (most of which goes on pensioners) in the future.
But I’m also not sure that anything can be done to change a trend which reflects changing priorities. I’d recommend Stephen Shaw’s YouTube documentary about this which concluded that natalist policies have so far failed everywhere. Millions are actively making a choice not to have kids and there is not much the state can do to cajole or bribe them to change their minds. China shows that the state can prevail upon citizens to reduce family size, but South Korea shows the limits of bribes. My feeling is that this trend is global, irreversible and we’d best start thinking about the consequences, because the promise of a pension – made to those starting work now – was made on a demographic premise that is turning out to be false. People