The gap in wealth, income and governmental support between the young and the old has grown significantly in recent decades, to the extent that the social contract between the generations is now broken.
This general injustice is further fuelling inequalities between the young as those parents with sufficient wealth are increasingly passing it onto their children before they die, while those with lower wealth simply cannot do this.
These differences have been fuelled by changes in government policy which panders to older people because they are more likely to vote than younger people, and older people are also more likely to vote Tory, the dominant party of the last four decades which has resided over social policies that have persistently favoured the old over the young.
Older people have benefited from:
- Decades of a well-funded, functioning NHS delivering free health care at the point of delivery.
- A well funded education system, including free universities and grants to pay tuition fees.
- The most generous pension terms, with many retiring on full, final salary pensions.
- The treble-locked pension going forwards, with pensions rising 10% in line with inflation.
- Properly funded council housing, much of which was sold off under Thatcher providing very cheap home-ownership for millions.
- The opportunity to become a ‘share holding democracy’ when Britains’ nationally owned water and gas companies were sold off, again under Thatcher.
- Being able to buy their own, very large homes which they now under occupy. 67% of homeowners of retirement age have two or more spare bedrooms.
Young people suffer from:
- A now underfunded NHS which is so crippled even nurses have taken the difficult decision to strike as a last ditch effort to get the government to fix the broken social contract and pay workers a living wage.
- An education system which has seen a 20% real terms cut to funding under the Tories since 2010, and they have to take out loans of tens of thousands of pounds to fund a degree on which they are soon going to have to pay almost 7% interest (while pensions are increasing in line with inflation.
- Their pension age has been pushed back to at least 68 and replaced with average salary rather than final salary schemes in most cases.
- Very high property prices to the extent that most people have to save for a decade until they can afford to buy in their mid 30s and with current inflation mortgage interest is at a 20 year high.
- Having to live in shared accommodation or with their parents into their early 30s in increasing numbers of cases.
- Their earnings are relatively lower thanks to steadily rising inflation and made dramatically worse by the recent cost of living crisis.
It is also the case that the chosen government response to the Covid-19 Pandemic, that of locking down the country for six months, was mainly to prevent old people dying, and it was young people who paid the price for this: especially those whose education was harmed.
Increasing inequality among the young
According to a recent report by the Institute of Fiscal Studies (IFS) based on a cohort of young people in their early 20s and 30s, the parents of the well off will provide their children with £17bn in gifts and loans in 2023.
And children of university-educated homeowners, who are already the highest earners, will receive six times more than the children of renters.
This is only human: of course parents want to and will help their children financially if they have the means.
David Willets who recently chaired the intergenerational commission has pointed out, however, that this ‘natural’ desire of individual parents to help their particular children is bad for society as a whole. They may be ‘good’ parents but they are not good citizens.
Social policy solutions
The commission has suggested several government proposals to combat generational injustice and restore the social contract between young and old people, such as:
- Making older people pay more tax to benefit the young
- A massive housebuilding programme to help bring down house price
- Reforming council tax to make larger properties pay more
- More secure tenancies for renters
- Ending zero hours contracts
- Abolishing various loopholes which allow people to avoid paying inheritance tax
- Increasing capital gains tax on wealth gains.
The most radical proposal of all was a £10 000 citizens inheritance grant to every 30-year old to go towards housing, education, or pension.
The most significant challenge to improving the lives of young people through social policy is the lack of will within government, and especially within the Tory government.
The simple truth is that the majority of voters are over 50, and most of these vote Tory, and people vote in their own self-interest.
So we’ve got a situation where the Tories and probably Labour if they wish to get into power are going to keep pandering to the old and allow them to keep their wealth and high income.
The problem is that this has to crack at some point!
I mean, it is young people who work and raise most of the tax revenue, after all!
To find out more you might like this Guardian article by Polly Toynbe which inspired this post: My generation are sucking Britain’s young people dry.
This material should be of general interest to any sociology student wondering why their life is so difficult, and it is also relevant to the topic of social policy, part of the Theory and Methods aspect of second year sociology.
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