The Rise of Gerontocracy? Addressing the Intergenerational Democratic Deficit

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Dr Craig Berry


30 April 2012

What implications does the ageing of the population have for Britain’s democracy? This powerfully-argued study, written by ageing-issues expert Dr Craig Berry on behalf of IF, analyses data on demography and voting patterns to present the case that our democracy is at serious risk of being undermined as a growing elderly population exerts more and more influence at the ballot box. In the years ahead, this will come at the expense of a younger generation who will find that they are being increasingly disenfranchised.

This study calls for urgent action from policy-makers to try to help re-engage young people with democracy, a process that could be achieved through such radical measures as lowering the voting age to 16, as well as giving young people political training and encouraging them systematically to get themselves elected to legislative bodies. Dr Berry warns that if such actions are not taken, Britain faces the bleak prospect that the growing political divide between younger and older generations will widen into a chasm.

Posted on: 30 April, 2012

4 thoughts on “The Rise of Gerontocracy? Addressing the Intergenerational Democratic Deficit

  1. Dave Lewis

    Talking to young people I know it seems that many have disenfranchised themselves by having no interest in politics and the belief that voting is pointless. I have always been a political activist and my message is get off your backsides and start getting involved in politics. if you don’t someone else will make all the decisions for you.

  2. Steve Gregory

    I think the aims of this site are sound, but I worry that the focus on inter-generational issues, misses the key fact of the huge number of older citizens who will also be severly limited in their standard of living, going forward.

    Your pensions paper points out the vast divide between people with Final Salary pensions and Money Purchase and also the miniscule average pensions of typical private sector pensioners. I therefore believe that to suggest that the older generation have no common democratic cause with the young is likely to inflame passions in a misguided way : There is much more to be gained by the disenfranchised pensioner poor joining forces with the disenfranchised young, to tackle the fundamental issue – over-generous provision for a significant minority of pensioner rich

    As a 55 year old, I can see clear evidence already of people in similar jobs with similar levels of responsibility, but who will have widely differing standards of living and/or have the ability to retire at widely differing ages. THE PROBLEM IS ALREADY HERE

    So it is misplaced to suggest that a unified ‘Gerontrocacy’ acting against the interests of the young. The REAL issue of providing winter fuel allowance to wealthy pensioners is important, but pales into insignificance against huge guaranteed pensions that a significant minority of current pensioners enjoy. These are pillaging public finances and private pension schemes alike.

    The answer is to punitively tax higher pension incomes – say above £25k, to recover some of this money to help alleviate the pressure on us all. (see my posting about the pensions paper)

    1. liz Post author

      Thanks for your comments Steve. I agree absolutely that the disenfranchised pensioner poor should be given more help but in terms of intergenerational fairness this is a debate that should take place intra-generationally ie within their own generational cohort. Is it not morally indefensible to take benefits you don’t need whilst others your own age are suffering?

      With regard to a Gerontocracy – our research into local and parish councillors shows this to be the case. The older people get the more opposed to new building they become. 40% of local councillors are over 65 years of age whilst only 5% of these councillors are under 35 years of age. That’s because of pay, times of meetings, pressure from full-time work commitments. If we want more young people engaged we need to remove the barriers that prevent them from being involved.

  3. Steve Gregory

    I agree that access to democratic institutions is a big issue, and also affects busy 50-something’s like me who would love to have the time to get in involved, but see that most local councils are dominated by old f–T’s with too much time on their hands. I notice the subject of compulsory voting is being discussed again , after the police commissioner debacle – maybe something radical like that is needed to shake up the status quo.

    It is obviously immoral for wealthy pensioners to take universal benefits. Why don’t you campaign to get the ageing celebs like Alan Sugar to donate their winter fuel allowance to Shelter. Although symbolic, I think it would’ve great to recruit some high profile oldies to your cause. Given the public interest in encouraging young ‘apprentices’ he might just see this as a good move

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