Another year passes: intergenerational birthday blues

Contributing to our ongoing Vox Pop series, an IF supporter from Kent foresees a gloomy intergenerational conversation with his sons, and cannot – alas! – find reasons to be more optimisticif_blog_vox_pop_retro_mic_logo_revised

This weekend my two sons (aged 30 and 26 respectively) will join us for the younger one’s birthday. What they will tell me after a few drinks as the conversation develops is what they have been saying for months/years. Dad, this intergenerational stuff is fine but it’s just another example of the gap between rhetoric and reality. They know all about it because they are part of it and they don’t want to know about another Think Tank report or academic study; they ask me when is someone (like politicians) going to do anything about it?

Never, in their minds – and if ever, not a lot.

Like a myriad of issues facing the UK they perceive this as just going round and round the houses – the houses of Parliament! It gets aired and, like many things, it never gets resolved or addressed fundamentally. As my number one son says, all we do is talk about things and nothing changes: he watches Question Time regularly and gets frustrated….

They grew up during the Blair/Brown era, the Coalition, and with Cameron and Osborne (the two amigos) – with hindsight they know young people have been poorly served by successive governments. They even understand there was a deliberate policy to continue giving better-off pensioners money they do not really need, through NS&I bonds, continuing the triple lock, winter fuel allowances, free bus passes and TV licences, etc., so the Tories would get elected.

The biggest failure of all has been not to build anywhere near enough homes and the private sector will not address this, so they talk about Housing Associations being given massive funds (number one son has an HA flat, number two son is in his own place with girlfriend courtesy of the bank of mum and dad) – but I then say that whilst I agree (and I would favour building council houses like the 1960s) we have no money to do this, and then the discussion expands to the whole nine yards of what isn’t working in the UK: our biggest poverty problem is no longer the elderly but people in work (two-thirds of children growing up in poverty have someone in their household in a job); NHS and Social Care in crisis – these days elderly people are the problem; and so on and so forth as we explore “the wreckage of our broken society” and the failure to address inequality; the haves and the have nots…blah, blah, blah…until my wife and son’s girlfriend say stop it because they want to enjoy the birthday family dinner…

Number two son is also upset by Brexit. On the plus side, he thinks Brexit might give the UK a long overdue shake-up but probably it’s too late now and a massive risk. Brexit will diminish Europe, but it will also certainly mark the end for the UK’s international heavyweight status and accelerate the economic failures/decline outside London due to globalisation. Even worse to be the kids or grand-kids of the forgotten communities north of Watford. And what follows? More uncertainty, more political, economic and legal upheaval, and therefore more financial devastation.

As far as my number two son is concerned, it’s too late for him. He’s sick of discussing the “ten structural problems facing the UK economy” (he studied Business Studies at Uni, number one did Politics and Economics). He worries about the environment but questions of intergenerational equality – like overall social and economic inequality – are just facts of life for him that his elders (including me) have failed to fix. He also doesn’t want now to make gains that might be more than offset by environmental deterioration. He argues that future generations should not inherit a degraded environment, no matter how many extra sources of wealth are available to them. Depressing.

So, my sons see that the race is rigged whatever way you look at it. It’s the vast and growing disparity in wealth and opportunity. London isn’t cool, it’s just full of taxpayer-subsidised bankers. My sons aren’t socialists but they scoff at the idea that anyone will address the fundamental challenges confronting the UK by creating a dynamic and stable market economy whose benefits are also widely shared. It’s not an intergenerational crisis but a crisis for us old wrinklies locked into the gap between rhetoric and reality and the failure to deliver real change.

My number two son has an interview for a job in Australia and if successful will go with his long-term girlfriend…right move! Mother not happy. Dad? Well, why not?