New report calls for “Fairness for all ages”

David Kingman comments on the recent call from intergenerational practice charity United for All Ages that more should be done to heal Britain’s intergenerational dividesMulti-generation family walking in countryside, kids running

Imagine a society where the members of all generations are treated equally, and policy-makers have made a concerted effort to solve the major long-term problems which face Britain as a country – that is the message of Fairness for all Ages?, the latest publication by the intergenerational practice charity United for All Ages.

How could we get there?

The report – which has been officially supported by a number of younger and older peoples’ charities, including the Intergenerational Foundation – argues that the key to addressing many of Britain’s long-term challenges lies in facilitating greater solidarity and collaboration between the different generations. In particular, it offers a list of 20 specific recommendations for policies that could improve intergenerational fairness, ranging from the government providing greater transparency about the income, wealth and debt levels of different generations to introducing a new “intergenerational fairness audit” for all government policies.

The report calls for policy-makers to be proactive about addressing the inequalities that exist between younger and older people over a wide range of issues, such as:

  • Tax – the report makes the point that young people and older people with the same incomes should pay the same rate of tax, but this often doesn’t happen in reality for a number of reasons, such as older peoples’ exemption from paying National Insurance.
  • Work – young people need more support to help them deal with the low wages and insecure conditions which many have been left with following the recession, while older people need help gaining access to the kind of flexible working conditions that can extend their working lives as they live longer.
  • Housing – too many young people are struggling to pay for unaffordable housing, while the report argues that the amount of housing wealth which is currently set to be inherited by the children of property-rich families threatens to severely worsen social inequality among the next generation.
  • Public services – with the continuing cutbacks to public services, young people face being expected to pay for a far more generous package of public services and pensions for the older generations than they will ever receive themselves.
  • Social integration – one of the most serious intergenerational issues is the fact that young and old are unlikely to mix in the same social settings, owing to the decline of mixed-aged public spaces such as libraries and churches; if young and old do not mix with each other, they are far less likely to understand each other’s problems, weakening the bonds of the intergenerational social contract.

Growing intergenerational problems?

In drawing attention to the wide range of problems facing today’s younger generation, the report specifically highlights the fact that inheriting their parents’ and grandparents’ wealth – which is often proposed as the main solution to growing intergenerational inequality by policy-makers – could potentially lead to a dramatic worsening of social equity. As Stephen Burke, the director of United for All Ages, explains in his Introduction:

“The increasing concentration of wealth amongst older people has big implications for social mobility. Simply relying on wealth to cascade or trickle down the generations via inheritance and family transfers will concentrate that wealth amongst younger cohorts of the same families. We need radical action and redistribution; we need ideas that will change our society and unite generations, not divide them.”

This is surely what needs to happen as Britain’s population ages, but it’s hard to be optimistic that politicians will be willing to ask more affluent members of the older generation to sacrifice some of their familial wealth in order to get there..