Solving problems of our greying population - John Blundell's latest article in The Scotsman

WHATEVER views we have about mass immigration or asylum seeking, it is not possible to be unaware of the phenomenon. As an economic liberal, I have a prejudice in favour of the free movement of labour. People move to improve their prospects

Migrations do not occur to socialist countries. It is liberal, pluralist, capitalist economies that attract.

Few seem to be aware of a process that is a mirror image of our immigration: the accelerating rate of emigration.

The people who leave these shores are two distinct types. First, there are those with professional or technical expertise, whose knowledge services global markets such as banking, sciences and engineering. They are sprinkled worldwide but with notable concentrations in the US, where cricket is the fastest growing sport. They are mostly highly paid and mostly anticipate returning to the UK. I suppose we have been exporting talents for at least three centuries.

But it is possible to detect an entirely new flow of Scots. In the past if you retired you sought a home in congenial places where other post-employment people lived. Each Scottish city had its satellite retirement towns. Edinburgh has North Berwick and perhaps Jedburgh, Glasgow has Dunoon and Troon. The most prosperous and pretty places in Scotland are grey-haired - Dunkeld, Tobermory or the East Neuk. Yet the experience of retirement is evolving rapidly.

There are little colonies of Scots emerging in Portugal’s Algarve, the Spanish Costas and Tenerife and even in Florida. One of the most intriguing ones is the John Knox Village near Fort Lauderdale. This community is halfway between being a village and a retirement home.

The uncongenial but undeniable fact is our faculties fail as we get older. We need degrees of care, yet our resources are limited once income has ceased. In the past, a male Scots worker retiring at 65 would be lucky to live beyond 75. Now 85 is not uncommon and 95 not exceptional. Scots females live longer.

Only a very few of us have built up enough savings to pay for our newly-elongated lives. I don’t want to complain about this; it is good news. I’m saying we are going to have to accommodate and adapt to a fact never before experienced in human history. Unless we inject unimaginable sums, the experience of our last decades is going to be bleak.

The Scottish Executive has only one response to all problems, namely nationalisation. A free retirement home sounds kindly. It sounds benevolent. It is pernicious. By holding retirees as captives of local authorities we will achieve horrible results. It is important everyone retains the dignity of choice in their years after work.

My suggestion is simple. The very poorest of Scots with nothing much beyond their state pension may struggle on shrivelled budgets in Edinburgh, but would be highly affluent if their income were placed in the Third World. Retiring to Madeira or the Canaries used to be cheap, but no longer. Yet there is no shortage of places where migrating Scots would have princely wealth. It would be a brave couple who chose to live in the Cape Verde Islands or Belize in isolation, but once clusters of Scots are created it becomes far more attractive.

Expensive phone lines or fortnightly air mail letters are yesterday’s story. Now satellites beam every English speaking television channel across the world. With e-mail we are only nano-seconds from messaging our relatives and friends. Instead of shivering through the six months of the Scottish winter, in future the retired can swim or golf in the sunshine. Their bodies and their money will go much further.

What we need is some entre-preneurs to nourish this phenomena. Bovis builds some villas on the coast near Lagos. Miller Homes could buy, say, a chunk of Zanzibar. Leith architects Simpson & Brown ought to buy up Mindelo.

Any of the pretty villages of south-west France has a few expat Scots but these are essentially wealthy. I’m suggesting it is those with the least money who will find themselves richer the further they migrate south. A monthly state pension taken to the Azores or the Virgin Islands will furnish a handsome home, even with a gardener and maid and a swimming pool.

One serious doubt in the past could be poor medical services. But providing there are fridges to keep insulin or other life-preserving potions, and the needles are kept sterilised, sunshine does not token malaria or yellow fever any longer.

How long before those who own retirement homes realise they can offer a far better deal by shifting their facilities from Dunbar to Georgetown in Guyana?

Another pattern of migration that seems to go unreported is how many immigrants choose to retire in their home country. This is rational behaviour. Why live on a council estate in Lambeth when you can enjoy Jamaica?

It is not easy to commend Haiti, though Dominica, on the same island, looks perfect. Ethiopia may be outside the range of candidates but Asmara in Eritrea, next door, is a lovely Italianate town.

For the first time in the experience of Scotland, we will have a preponderance of the retired. Most of us can expect several decades of frolicking, but more fun can be had on our limited budgets if we fly south. We might expect the Americans to take a lead in this adventure, but they seem reluctant to leave their borders. Nevada has displaced Florida for US retirees.

Much the most arresting feature of retirement homes are cruise ships that plough the oceans with cargoes of retired accountants and solicitors. After the novelty of the first weeks, these sounds like prison ships.

So, Oxfam and Christian Aid and other philanthropic bodies that try to awaken us to the plight of non-capitalist locations ought to adapt their charity shops on Scotland’s high streets into advice desks on how to find sunshine in our sunset years. A Scot of the most modest means will be a wealthy resident of Sierra Leone or Sri Lanka.

Arthur C Clarke, the science fiction writer, retired to the Indian Ocean 30 years ago and says he has had no moment of regret. He says he can see no merit in trying to endure a winter in Edinburgh.

• John Blundell is director general of the Institute of Economic Affairs.

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