Total Opinion Debate
Pinch, which makes the case that the boomers – of which he is one – are guilty of failing to protect their children’s future. This generation, in his view, took too much during the good times, reaping the benefits of final salary pension schemes and free university education while squandering what wealth they had and failing to save, saddling younger generations with the public debt.
Unfortunately this argument overlooks a number of crucial facts. Huge inequalities are prevalent within each generation, with poverty and ill health rife even among the so-called lucky generation of baby-boomers: 1.8 million people over state pension age are currently living below the poverty line and three quarters of NHS clients are aged 65 and over.
In addition to this, the legacy of the baby-boomer generation can hardly be described as mean. The overwhelming majority of that generation is still alive, still consuming, still writing wills and still making a valuable contribution to society. A quarter of those over-60 volunteer at least once a month. And just two months ago, the coalition government announced an end to forced retirement so that people will have a legal right to work beyond 65 if they want to. This decision, which I firmly believe is a lifeline for the many older people who want to continue to work and contribute, was broadly welcomed. And why wouldn’t it be? Older workers now have the opportunity to work longer to support themselves, rather than allowing future generations to foot the bill for their pensions or long-term healthcare needs. Yet the negative response from a large section of the media was palpable, with the Daily Telegraph among many reporting that the move would “shut out younger workers”.
The proportion of baby-boomers who now act as full-time carers is also significant. Figures show that 1.2 million men and 1.6
Did baby-boomer generation politicians fail the adults of the future?
million women aged 50 and over in England and Wales provide unpaid care to family members, neighbours or relatives. Many of these people spent years raising their own families only to find themselves caring for an older friend or relative once their children had
“To dismiss the boomer generation as a selfish giant, bankrupting the country and draining its resources, is to ignore the fact that there is as much inequality within generations as there is between them”
grown up and flown the nest. And older carers are frequently in poor health themselves, with some still having to juggle full-time caring responsibilities with their regular day job – hardly a lifestyle that could be deemed as selfish.
An argument that is frequently levelled at the boomers is that they made a fortune from property at the expense of their own children,
14 | Total Politics | October 2010
who now can’t afford the high prices that their parents helped to inflate. The financial contribution the baby-boomer generation often makes to its children and grandchildren is, however, frequently forgotten, with three out of ten grandparents setting aside money to help their grandchildren get on the property ladder and £470m contributed to child trust funds each year by grandparents.
To dismiss the boomer generation as a selfish giant, bankrupting the country and draining its resources, is to ignore the fact that there is as much inequality within generations, and indeed families, as there is between them. Wealthier members of the baby-boomer generation might make up a large proportion of those setting aside inheritance for their children and grandchildren, but for others that remains a luxury beyond their means.
It’s clear that a new state settlement between the generations which reflects our shared experiences as human beings is urgently needed. Achieving intergenerational equity is possible – but only if politicians focus on fairness, reducing inequalities and creating opportunities for all ages.
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