I have come to the conclusion that I have lived at a time and place that has treated me very well. I was born with no hereditary privileges; both my parents were poor. However, I was very fortunate that my father had been diagnosed as having TB as a teenager, which meant he was unfit for military service during the second world war. So in 1945 I have two living parents, which was more than many of my contemporaries could say.
When I was five years old Britain introduced a National Health Service, which meant that all my health needs were paid for by the general taxpayer; in other words, people who were richer than my family subsidized the cost of all my medical expenses.
My father had served an apprenticeship and this meant that he was never unemployed. Indeed he was able to hold down two jobs at a time of full employment, so that although my parents have never been rich, they were comfortable and in 1956, when my father was 38 and my mother 36, they were able to buy their first house and afford the mortgage. They had been married for 20 years, living in rented single rooms, small apartments, a small house and even a gypsy caravan for a time. Now they had for the first time an indoor bathroom, an indoor WC, running hot water and a garden large enough to grow vegetables and fruit. Within a few years they could own a car (albeit a pre-war vehicle). Later, in 1963, when he was 45 and she 43 they bought a brand new house with central heating, a garage, and a fitted kitchen. My mother still lives there aged 91. The mortgage is long ago paid off.
For three years (when I was aged 4-7) my parents found enough money to pay for me to go to a private school. It was not necessary, but my father was hot-headed and took a dislike to state education which would not have allowed me to start until I was 5. Education in those post-war years was a great project for HM Government. Many modern schools were built and there was selection at 11 for a minority of pupils to be educated in a quasi-public-school manner with a view to sending these children to some of the finest universities in the world. I turned out to be very good at Maths and English and was able to take advantage of this. Again this was all at the expense of richer taxpayers than we had in our family.
When I went to university for 5 years, not only were my fees paid for but my living expenses too - all by the taxpayer. Not only that, but on qualifying as a doctor I was given a job at taxpayers' expense to not only work, but also to train as a specialist. I was given a research training again in an MRC position, again at taxpayers' expense and within 6 years of qualifying I had a consultant position in a government hospital. From here I was given salary increases that left me earning over £100,000 a year by the time I retired. For my latter years part of my salary was paid by the voluntary sector from charitable sources, and I was able, because of the renown I had achieved in the public sector, to earn even more in the private sector from my writing.
By the time I was 27 I was buying my first house. I have been able to bring up four children, all educated at public expense and with most of their university fees paid by the taxpayer too. They all have well-paid jobs - two in the public sector and two in the private sector. I live on a generous pension paid for by the taxpayer in a pleasant town with all I could possibly need.
As far as I have been able I have given back all I could and I think I have made my contribution to medicine and to science and in various ways to the community, but I am conscious of just how well this land and these times have treated me.
But what of the future? Has my generation done so well at the expense of future generations? 64% of current people between the ages of 20 and 40 apparently believe that they will never own their own house. Individuals who go to university are now hampered by long term debts which may make house purchase hazardous. Although technology has changed the world, for many young people there is the prospect of many hours of commuting every day, long hours in an office job and home to a rented apartment. Larger contributions for their pension pot will be required from their salary and they will have to work until they are 68 or older before they can draw it. There are stories that even longevity might decline; that because of diabetes and hypertension and an increasing burden of cancer, the present generation of oldsters will be the last long-lived generation.
Although there have been great technical advances in medicine, NICE-like, vice-like controls will make these advances unaffordable. Perhaps the affluence of the West will be overtaken by the burgeoning economies of China, India and Brazil. Already we are seeing an underclass of people who will live their whole lives without a job, existing of state benefits and charity. I was astonished to read the feedback on an article yesterday on benefit cheats. The general attitude was that if they could get away with it, then good luck to them. MPs who cheated on their expenses were far worse. It's as though many citizens have given up on being good citizens.
I am sure that many of my correspondents will insist that the end we see now was an inevitable consequence of socialist Britain and I agree with that diagnosis. Eventually socialists run out of other peoples' money to spend, and Britain was once the wealthiest country in the world. It has taken us a long time to spend our wealth. Of course, there is more that could be spent. The UK is the largest foreign investor in America; there are assets to be sold if necessary. Taxes were once much higher than they are now. But if the government spends more they have little control over the consequences. We now live in a global economy where the power of the multinational company exceeds that of government.
Or is this just a temporary blip? During the 1970s Britain was in a parlous state. Much of industry was owned by the government and inefficiently run at a loss. Strikes were commonplace and taxes were high. The balance of payments was a problem and sterling was devalued. Striking coal-miners reduced the country to a three-day week and there were rolling electricity cuts to share out the pain. Somehow the worm turned and we came out of that. Our current problem was triggered by our banks buying into a housing bubble. That housing bubble still exists and our banks remain in delicate health. To handicap our recovery we have bought into a myth about global warming which means that we pay more for our fuel than other economies.
I see that Mrs Thatcher impersonator, Janet Brown, has died at the age of 87. I am looking for another one.