Monday 8 July 2013

The last few years of literary festivals?

Thank you to all those who made it to my session this afternoon at Ways With Words in Dartington Hall, which was magical in a whole range of ways.  The dreamy sunshine on the lawn, the otherworldly atmosphere of Dartington – heavens, I even slept in a medieval bed.  It was almost News from Nowhere in reverse.

My session on the middle classes was great fun and lively and I’m ever so grateful to everyone for coming.  I will be doing a rather different version of the middle class performance at the Edinburgh Book Festival in August.

But it was poignant as well.  I realised, sitting in the sun, that the vast majority of people who had come to the festival to listen to me, Ann Widdecombe and Roy Hattersley (a strange combination), were retired people on full final salary pensions. 

The perfect storm that is about to sweep away the middle class lifestyle for the next generation will also sweep away these final salary pensions – in fact, they have already been swept away.

The average pension pot in the UK is now £25,000, enough to pay out about £1,250 a year.  If the whole literary and cultural economy depends on pensioners having disposal income – and I believe much of it does – then it will not exist.

Those of us born between 1920 and 1950 have created that leisured, cultured world, because of generous pensions, paid for by employers, that no longer exist.  It is more than sad to see it go: it will be a disaster for the UK, dependent than much more on the largesse of Chinese and Qatari investors and the books and culture that they happen to like, and are written for them as an audience.

But then, we shouldn’t write off the middle classes quite so soon.  They have an amazing ability to adapt and survive – and it is precisely how they are going to do that which my book Broke sets out.

There is a way out.  Now we have to actually take it.

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