Keeping the over-70s indoors for a year would be an economic disaster

Linda J. Dodson

Breaking out official data for the over-70s is not possible, but given the triple lock, it’s hardly surprising that a recent report by the International Longevity Centre put the over-65s as the fastest growing consumer group in the country. It shows total spending for households aged 65 and over grew by 75pc from 2001 to 2018, driven by a 28pc rise in households over 65 during that period, as well as the policy tailwind.

According to the Office for National Statistics, the 4.2 million households aged between 65 and 74 last year spent £548 a week, not far off the national average of £585. The group outspends the under-30s and – unsurprisingly – funnels a much bigger share of its spending towards recreation and leisure, at around 18pc.

While items such as restaurant spending are more evenly spread, nearly half of the £98.90 that the 65-74-year-olds spend on recreation and culture every week is directed at package holidays, compared with the £76.90 average across all UK households. 

They spend less on housing per se, but the 65-74s also outspend the average on some categories of transport – such as new cars – as well as household goods such as furnishings and appliances, and (unsurprisingly) health. 

Hence if you’re the chief executive of a travel company like Sage or Tui, or running a furniture store or car dealership, the last thing you want is to see some of your biggest spending customers told to stay at home for up to a year.

The furloughing scheme, which began operation yesterday, has been extended until June but if a significant chunk of customers in struggling sectors such as retail or leisure are forced to stay away, it won’t be long before those temporary parked workers are shelved permanently. The garden centres and the holiday parks would be waving the white flag within months.

Even if the over-70s were faced with the sudden imposition of a year-long isolation, studies in Italy and personal experience with my own parents and in-laws suggests there is little chance of them complying with it.

For the much longer term, isolation should be a matter of personal choice judged on individual circumstances, not blanket Government mandate. We need the silver spenders to help get the economy back on its feet. 

Hard work on jobs data

Nearly a month into the full lockdown of the UK economy, today we get some jobs figures from the Office for National Statistics – but for the quarter to February.

If anything throws a spotlight on the untimely and inadequate way our labour market data are collected and disseminated, it is a fast-moving economic crisis like Covid-19. 

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