Baby boomer bashing is very on trend right now. We are constantly being told how tough life is for millennials, how the older generation has “screwed them over on Brexit”, and that they are going to be worse off than their parents.
This week, new proposals were announced to redress the generational balance and bring about “intergenerational fairness”. This was the report by the Resolution Foundation Intergenerational Commission, which suggested providing handouts of £10,000 to 25-year-olds and increasing taxes on pensioners.
The cash payouts and higher taxes for pensioners would help tackle intergenerational issues such as young people struggling to get on the property ladder and an NHS in crisis, claims the commission. But why should pensioners have to pay for the ineptitude of government policies?
Complaints about the difficulty of getting on the housing ladder always seem to go hand in hand with the narrative that millennials are so much worse off than their baby boomer parents. But this isn’t true, and it highlights a nasty streak of entitlement within Britain’s younger generations.
A survey carried out last year by the Resolution Foundation found 48 per cent of Britons thought millennials would be worse off than their parents. Graduates were even more pessimistic than non-graduates: almost 60 per cent believed they would have a worse standard of life than the people who came before them.
Well, I’m a millennial and I certainly don’t think I’ve had a raw deal. I grew up in a nice house in a nice neighbourhood and was lucky enough to have family holidays abroad. When I finished school, there was no question of not going to university. I had all of this because my parents worked hard to give their children the things that they didn’t have when they were growing up. They both came from working class backgrounds – my father grew up on a council estate and went to university on a government grant.
It will be a similar story for many in the baby boomer generation. The majority did not go to university either. We shouldn’t begrudge baby boomers their houses or comfortable retirements. For most, these will have been hard fought for.
Millennials might wail about not being able to get onto the property ladder, but the fact is that owning a property is not a right. You are entitled to a roof over your head but buying a house is not a necessity for that.
The truth is that we are a very privileged generation. Figures from the Department for Education last year show a graduate population that is fast increasing. The percentage of the under-30 population now likely to go on to higher education is at 49 per cent. Beyond educational opportunities, the internet, better technology and cheap travel has made life easier and opened up the world and its possibilities to young people like me.
There is an ageist bent to all of this baby boomer bashing, and it infects politics too. After the EU referendum, older voters who voted for Brexit were accused of stealing the futures of the young. At a conference last year, novelist Ian McEwan said that he looked forward to a 2019 with “1.5 million oldsters, mostly Brexiters, freshly in their graves”.
During the referendum campaign itself, campaign group Stronger in Europe launched a “Talk to Gran” campaign, encouraging youngsters to tell their elderly relatives how to vote. Today, the anti-Brexit youth campaign, Our Future, Our Choice, claims Brexit should be stopped because its impact will be greater for the younger generations – most of whom voted against it. Their crowdfunding page asks young people to film conversations with their parents where they lecture them on how awful Brexit is. Once again, the entitled implication is that what young people want matters more than the desires of the older generation.
We must stop blaming the older generation for things we are unhappy about today.
Splitting society down generational lines is an ugly and unproductive way of addressing society’s problems. It smacks of childish whining and it certainly won’t resolve anything.
Issues like the housing crisis and a flagging NHS are serious problems that will only be resolved by radical policy change by the government, not by penalising pensioners. In any case, the suggestion that millennial adults deserve a package of perks to encourage “intergenerational fairness” is ridiculous. Even children know that life isn’t fair.
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