Intergenerational Fairness in the General Election

Proposed policies such as national service and commitments to maintain the triple lock have put debates about intergenerational unfairness at the heart of the national debate. IF researcher, Toby Whelton, investigates.



The national debate 

There has been a near unprecedented national outrage by young journalists and young people across social media about the flagrant intergenerational unfairness of policies proposed in the run up to the General Election of 4 July. While young people were told that they would have to undertake mandatory national service, older people were offered a ‘Triple Lock Plus’

Despite the ire of the young, have their concerns been translated into policy offerings by either major political party? This blog posts will judge the intergenerational fairness in policy announcements made to date by both the main parties.


Perhaps the most notable feature of both political campaigns on intergenerational grounds is not what has been said, but what has not. Despite the current housing crisis, which IF believes to be the most visible form of intergenerational unfairness in the UK today, neither party has committed to any concrete housing policy. Housing was mysteriously absent from Labour’s six pledges. Meanwhile, the Conservative’s only official policy announcement has been a refusal to build 60,000 more homes in Milton Keynes.

To be fair, Labour gave hints back in April at their intention to build more housing. Keir Starmer  stated that the greenbelt is a misnomer for what is largely a “greybelt’ and signaled the party’s intention to ease planning regulation to build more houses. Meanwhile, the Conservatives have stated that they will protect renters’ rights. It is a pity that the legislation already introduced during the last sitting of parliament failed to end ‘no fault evictions’. Instead, young people received a watered down Renters Reform Bill.

The plans from either main political party are simply not radical enough. Both parties are doing a grave disservice to the young by neglecting the sheer scale of the housing crisis. For any manifesto to be intergenerationally fair, it must address the current housing crisis which disproportionately affects the young. Younger generations are beginning to voice their anger at the current situation and even older generations are starting to acknowledge the sheer injustice being inflicted upon their children and grandchildren.

Student finance 

On the topic of neglect, there has been zero mention of the current plight of students. A free fall in the real-term value of maintenance loans has already left many students impoverished. The revised student loan finance plan introduced last September, will further impoverish younger generations, thereby saddling students with: debt for 40 years; an interest rate of 7.8%; and an effective ‘graduate tax’ in all but name of 9% on young people’s already disproportionately taxed income.

There has simply been no mention, let alone policies, to address the tsunami of student debt young people face, currently estimated to have reached over £200 billion. In terms of higher education policy, both political parties have retreated to the safe waters of discussing an increase to apprenticeships, which while important, ignores the current plight of millions of students. No where is this more obvious than Sunak stating he will cut 1 in 8 degree courses to fund these new apprenticeships.

Pensions and welfare

An area where there have been concrete policies are pensions. Labour has pledged to maintain the triple lock while the Conservative have gone further and promised a ‘triple lock plus’. This policy would mean the tax-free personal allowance for pensioners would increase by the highest of inflation, average earnings or 2.5% each year.

The proposed ‘quadruple lock’ is intergenerational unfairness at its most vivid. The threshold at which people pay tax should be ‘age-blind’ on principle alone, as IF argued in a recent Times newspaper article.

Talk of pensions also misses the current context of a stark inequality between the amount of welfare spending on the old versus the young when wealth now runs more along intergenerational lines than class lines. An IF report found that £6,000 more is spent on a pensioner compared to a child per annum. As of 2022, three million pensioners were living in millionaire households. Since the 1990s, pensioner poverty has fallen from about half to about 16% today. Meanwhile, 4.3 million children are living in relative poverty and 25% of children live in absolute poverty, the highest level since 1981. Increased spending on pensioners during the simultaneous retreat of the welfare state from the young, must be addressed, yet both parties’ policies serve only to perpetuate it by upholding the intergenerationally unjust triple lock.

Meanwhile, policy offerings for children and young people have been minimal beyond mentions of free breakfast clubs and increasing free childcare. These proposals are dwarfed in comparison to the fiscal burden of the triple lock.


Pledges on climate have been a mixed bag so far. Labour have stated they would not create any new North Sea oil and gas projects, yet they would honour existing licenses. Meanwhile, Conservatives plan to continue exploring and issuing new drilling licenses in the North Sea.

In terms of producing more green energy, Labour have committed to the goal of providing total clean energy power by 2030, yet this was the only policy that survived February’s u-turn on its green infrastructure pledge. Meanwhile, the Tories have stated national energy security is of greater concern than a transition to renewables.


Intergenerational fairness is not just about policies but the financing of them. Costs of government projects should be spread equally across society and across ages, so that future generations do not face a disproportionate burden for the spending by generations that have gone before.

Unfortunately, there are worrying rumours that Labour will look to finance some of their proposals using the infamous Private Finance Initiative (PFI). These are long-term contracts that run for around 25–30 years between a private organisation and a government entity where the private sector designs, builds, finances and operates a public asset and related services.

PFIs, beyond the fact that they often fail to provide value of money to the tax payer, are intergenerationally unfair, as the cost of projects are passed on to future generations who had no say in the original decision or even benefited from the asset during its useful life.

Voting age 

Labour have pledged to reduce the voting age to 16. This would be an intergenerationally fair move. It would enfranchise the share of the population who have traditionally been the victim of decades of policy that has pandered to the grey vote at their expense. Research has shown that giving the franchise early on politicises young people soon and that legacy stays with them for longer.

Across the floor, the Conservatives have stated that they will not reduce the voting age and will also maintain the other currently intergenerationally unfair policy that is the age-biased validation over voter IDs. While an older person’s Freedom Pass is accepted as a valid form of ID, an 18+ Oyster card is somehow invalid.


Ultimately, neither of the political parties’ offerings so far are particularly intergenerationally fair. Without meaningful changes to policy on housing, student finance and pensions, this will remain the case. While Labour’s climate policies show promise of being more intergenerationally fair, this may well be offset by their return to PFI.

For all the talk about the impact on younger generations in the national discourse, policy offers to our youngest generations have been thin on the ground so far this election campaign.

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Photo by Christopher Campbell on Unsplash