Is intergenerational inequality (partly) to blame for young people's misfortunes—or have the elderly become a scapegoat? David Willetts and Jennie Bristow go head-to-headby David Willetts and Jennie Bristow / October 7, 2019 / Leave a comment
Yes: David Willetts
There is overwhelming evidence that young people are having a tough time. The wheels of capitalism keep turning so that they enjoy new products and services, but both their incomes and wealth are lagging way behind. The real terms pay of someone aged 30 is no higher than it was for 30 year olds a decade ago. Their real disposable incomes have fallen, not least because of high housing costs. The welfare state exacerbates this, with higher payments for pensioners and cuts in benefits for young people.
There is a similar story for the two main assets we build up during our working lives. Home ownership among young people is half what it was at the turn of the millennium. There has been some progress in extending access to a pension, but the personal pension pots young people are accumulating are going to be worth far less than the defined benefit pensions belonging to the Boomers.
These trends impact quality of life. Young people have less living space than their predecessors did; spend longer commuting; and are more likely to work in atypical jobs, where they tend to be more dissatisfied. All this is before factoring in massive challenges like climate change and Brexit.
Why has this happened? Is it just bad luck? Or is it their fault? These are not the kind of arguments we would expect if we were trying to explain the disadvantages facing women or people from ethnic minorities but they are thrown at young people. There is such a clear pattern across so many different indicators it is implausible that it is just luck. And there is a clear explanation—the big generation of Boomers ahead of them have shaped public policy and markets in ways that work to their own advantage. It is not a deliberate plot by them but it is a clear failure to attach any value to the interests of the younger generation. It is a profound break in the inter-generational contract from which Boomers themselves have gained so much.
No: Jennie Bristow
We live in difficult economic times—that is true. Young people face stagnant wages, job insecurity and uncertain pension…