Forget the £10,000—it’s time to accept that millennials aren’t sabotaging themselves

It was the idea of a "citizen's inheritance" that made headlines. But there was a more important finding in the Resolution Foundation's report on intergenerational inequality—one that destroys the myth of millennial irresponsibility

May 09, 2018
It's time to get rid of the avocado cliches once and for all.
It's time to get rid of the avocado cliches once and for all.

Making a joke about millennials and avocados has moved beyond the point of being provocative into being simply boring. Used to mock the generation born between 1981-2000 for spending too much on meals out and having too little in their savings account, this tired joke has become only the most cliché way for baby boomers to blame millennials for their own financial ruin.

But on Tuesday, the Resolution Foundation turned that idea on its head. Publishing the findings of a two year study, the group proposed that every 25-year-old in Britain should be paid £10,000 to make up for an uncovered generational inequality suffered by millennials. Dubbed the “citizen’s inheritance,” this lump-sum would be a “small a restricted-use asset endowment” for young people to use for very specific purposes, including, but not limited to, “skills, entrepreneurship, housing and pension saving.”

Although the 229-page report delves into far more than just this idea, it’s this proposal that has, for obvious reasons, made the headlines. The £10K policy proposal has already conjured up strong reactions, from provocateurs and measured commentators alike. With the proposed funding for this policy coming from the money created by taxing pensioners on national insurance, some have suggested that a £10K sticking plaster would not solve intergenerational inequality, and was in fact bound to make the rich richer and the poor not much better off. Other commentators, meanwhile, have heralded the policy as a welcome response to millenials’ financial difficulties.

Millenials aren't spending more

However, regardless of where you fall on this spectrum, debate about this £10K policy proposal misses the point. Because this report did something far greater than suggest a flashy, controversial policy: it put forward evidence to argue that millennials’ financial situation was not, in fact, self-inflicted ruin, but a tragedy created by the baby boomers who have so roundly criticised them.

Buried in the report—and in many of the media responses to it—was the finding that, 15 years ago, 25 to 34-year-olds spent just as much as 55 to 64-year-olds. Today, millennials are spending 15 per cent less. This, accompanied by lower wages, less opportunity to save, and a bleak future of continued wage stagnation, means that despite the unrelenting myths of expensive stone fruit and nice coffees, millennials are actually more conservative consumers than their baby boomer counterparts. Tropes like the Money Diary Girl and the lazy, irresponsible young person aren’t just unfair stereotypes—in fact, they are the direct opposite of the reality.

Stop talking about avocados

No doubt this is going to be a tough pill to swallow for the people who love to deploy the trope of the irresponsible millennial. The question of whether or not young people could be better off financially if they spent less money on avocados has permeated the public consciousness; regularly featuring in mainstream newspapers and even making its way onto Question Time.

Ultimately, this isn’t about whether or not to give millennials £10,000. It isn’t about the morality or practicality of implementing this attention-grabbing policy. Whether or not you agree with the solution, the problem uncovered in this study should be what is salient: that an entire generation is being smeared for something they didn’t, and don’t, do.

They aren’t being hired for jobs, they can’t afford a mortgage, and yet they’re being maligned in the national press—all because of a misconception that they are “irresponsible,” based on an older generation’s misinformed anecdotal evidence. Put aside the media storm around it, and this report contains more than just a snazzy headline. It reveals that calling millennials irresponsible, lazy, spoiled complainers isn’t an opinion. It’s a lie.

So finally, let’s admit that it isn’t millennials who have sabotaged themselves. And let’s admit that they’re doing all they can to remove themselves from the mess of another generation’s making.