The party’s over – did political parties really speak to younger generations?

Party conference season and intergenerational fairness – did political parties really speak to younger generations? Liz Emerson, IF Co-founder, gives the low down on offers for younger generations

 It’s all about housing, stupid!

The Intergenerational Foundation (IF) has called on successive governments to address the housing crisis facing younger and future generations for more than a decade. Our calls include: building hundreds of thousands of new private sector and social homes to buy or rent; supporting the conversion of commercial buildings into residential housing as long as space standards are protected; removing the advantages that housing investors have over first-time-buyers; addressing planning blockages; and grasping the nettle that is the greenbelt. Beyond that, we also acknowledge that how the existing housing stock is used should also be part of the conversation, and that means: addressing spiralling under-occupation by older generations through greater downsizing; encouraging more lodging; helping older generations to downsize in their own homes; and addressing market failure in the retirement housing market.

Of course there are obvious tensions in IF’s work protecting the environment for future generations on the one hand while also supporting increasing the supply of new housing for younger generations. We believe that the housing crisis facing young people today is so acute that difficult decisions have to be made in order to help their generation as well as generations to come. The fact remains that the UK has the highest housing costs across Europe. Surely the right to safe, affordable shelter is a basic human right today and trumps the obligations we have towards the future? In order to provide that shelter we need to challenge the many tropes used by the NIMBY movement to undermine development in their local areas. The greenbelt is one of those words banded about to prevent the building of new homes young people so desperately need. The truth is that not all greenbelt land is beautiful productive arable land or home to endangered species that need protection. It has also doubled in size over the past 30 years, with little regard made towards the housing needs of young people today.

It was therefore heartening to listen to Labour’s plan to address the strangehold that greenbelts have had on towns and cities, and the party’s intention to build 1.5 million new homes in 5 years. This flies in the face of the Prime Minister’s decision to remove national house-building targets completely and the gaping omission of the housing crisis facing younger generations in his conference speech. The LibDems meanwhile saw a young housing activist group rebel on the conference floor, demand, and win the vote on the reintroduction of house-building targets. The Green Party also acknowledged the housing crisis focusing largely on renters and calling for rent controls and a “Greener Homes Guarantee“ with what the party describes as universal access to a secure and warm home via: insulation; damp and mould-free homes; rent controls; and increasing supply by a tepid but at least numbered, 150,000 new homes each year.

Students largely forgotten

No word from most political parties about students except from Labour. Students desperately need more help with living costs, with many unable to go cap-in-hand to their families for greater financial support to cover the huge hikes in prices be it food, energy or rent. The rise of just 2.8% in maintenance loan payments this year (when inflation has been running at over 4 times that amount) is intergenerationally unfair. To give you an idea of the generational injustice imposed on students by the current government, the state pension is likely to rise by 19.5% in just two years thanks to the “triple lock” irrespective of the wealth concentrated amongst older households. IF figures reveal that 3 million over-65s are living in millionaire households when housing and pension wealth is included.

While Labour’s announcement to help more students from deprived backgrounds to be able to afford to go to university is to be lauded, funding the promise of the return of maintenance grants by upping the tax-take on already overburdened recent graduates is another intergenerational sleight of hand. For all Labour’s talk of “reforming” student loans to make them fairer, this tinkering will not reduce the 40-year loan term and marginal tax rates of more than 40% for many new students who started this September. No word from the LibDems or the Greens either.

No political party wants to deal with the increasingly toxic burden of student debt, the repayment of which is reducing spending in the real economy. IF believes at the very least, a reduction in the current 9% repayment rate to around 5% would be the most helpful to younger generations. The question therefore remains, which party will step up and be the champions of students?

A new National Wealth Fund?

A nod to the long-term came from Labour with Rachel Reeve’s announcement that the party would create a new national wealth fund. Full details have yet to be revealed.

Mental health – an epidemic among the young

The irony is not lost on me that I am writing this article on World Mental Health Day. The mental health crisis facing our children and young people, many of whom have been worn down by the loss of learning during the pandemic, the climate crisis, the cost-of-living crisis, and an increase in conflicts in Europe and beyond, was once again largely ignored at party conferences. To have healthy futures, our children and young people need investing in today. Instead the gap in spending on the young versus the old is increasingly an intergenerational fairness issue having nearly doubled over the past 20 years or so. IF has already made the case for earlier intervention leading to long-term fiscal improvements using the example of government spending on clinical depression to demonstrate both. The LibDems won the conference season award for their commitment to mental health funding for the young by announcing the reduction in out-of-area placements, the introduction of walk-in centres in every community for young people in need, and a mental health specialist placement in every school. Importantly, they also acknowledge the cliff edge faced by 18 year-olds and announced the widening of CAMHS to until 25 years of age.

Labour did promise to cut child mental health waiting lists by half. Once again in spite of the rhetoric of “long-term decisions for a brighter future”, the Conservatives were wanting. According to the charity Mind, “The Prime Minister emphasised the need to ‘put the next generation first’…but with 1 in 6 young people now having a mental health problem, and waiting lists and lack of access to services and support, this was yet another missed opportunity to back up rhetoric with action.”

“Intergenerational fairness” language

Whatever the issue or the political party, our pledge to you as the country moves towards a General Election is to call all politicians to account if they use “intergenerational fairness” language to frame their promises but do not follow through with concrete policy that protects the interests of younger and future generations. All candidates need to be challenged on their offers to the young and those to come, So, I urge you to write to your local MP and ask them what they will do to help younger and future generations on housing, mental health, the climate crisis, students, high taxation and investing in the future.

Help us to be able to do more 

Now that you’ve reached the end of the article, we want to thank you for being interested in IF’s work standing up for younger and future generations. We’re really proud of what we’ve achieved so far. And with your help we can do much more, so please consider helping to make IF more sustainable. You can do so by following this link: Donate.

Photo by Jonas Jacobsson on Unsplash