Intergenerational Practice vs Intergenerational Justice

Antony Mason sees the potential for conflict, but argues that finding common ground serves all parties better

The younger generation have reason to be angry: for decades to come they will be burdened by the spending spree of previous generations – national debt, unfunded government pensions liabilities, debts from student fees, paying for the windfall profits in housing…

The older generation – baby boomers and their parents – will naturally be defensive. “Why blame us?” they protest. They simply made the most of the choices on offer to their generation, as any generation would.

There is the potential for conflict here – and indeed all over Europe young people have taken to the streets to protest at their lot in one way or another. The recent demonstrations in Israel – the largest protests in the nation’s history, mainly directed at the housing crisis – are only the latest in a growing list.

Justice and Practice

The Intergenerational Foundation is not in the blame game. The main thrust of our work and research is to target policy-makers and make them take the long-view, in the interests of future generations – something that previous governments have signally failed to do. This comes under the heading of “intergenerational justice” or “intergenerational fairness”.

“Intergenerational practice” tends to refer to something subtly different: promoting understanding and good relationships between the young and the old to the benefit of both. It is a lively field in the community and voluntary sector. As the name suggests, this is primarily practical, as opposed to political or theoretical.

In the context of intergenerational practice, there are an increasing number of “Intergenerational Centres” – buildings, run by local authorities or independent trusts, where participants can gather, such as the pioneering Acacia Intergenerational Centre, run by Merton Council in South London. Scotland has a government-funded organisation called the Scottish Centre for Intergenerational Practice, which operates support networks across the nation.

A number of universities have courses in intergenerational practice; for example, the University of Wales offers the Lampeter Certificate in Intergenerational Practice.

Perhaps the best-known organisation in this field is the Beth Johnson Foundation, which has its own dedicated Centre for Intergenerational Practice.

Conflict resolution

Intergenerational conflict tends to occur where generations have become isolated from each other and stratified. There is a danger of this occurring inBritain, where housing arrangements tend to split families into small units, often isolated geographically and socially from other generations.

A recent research report by the Intergenerational Foundation, entitled “The Poor Perception of Younger People in the UK”, showed that people in Britain believe that we have very negative attitudes towards young people, scoring lower results in this field than any other country in Europe.

By contrast, Italy appears less vulnerable to intergenerational conflict – despite the profound social and economic problems faced by its younger generation, including a youth unemployment rate of about 30% – because there is generally better communication and mutual support between generations.

The lesson seems to be that taking aggressive – accusatory or defensive – standpoints in intergenerational issues, pitting one generation against the other, serves little purpose. Solutions lie in finding common ground from which to work to secure a brighter future – for those alive today, and for future generations.

Those who campaign for intergenerational justice and those working in the field of intergenerational practice tend sometimes to see themselves as coming from mutually antagonistic points of view. But the cause would be far better served if they both worked in tandem to secure this common ground.