Andy Harrop is General Secretary of The Fabian Society.
All blogs are the views of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Independent Age.
I hate writing about inter-generational fairness. It’s a divisive and simplistic framework for thinking about complicated and largely unconnected issues. But then last year I did write a report which revealed that older people’s incomes had almost caught up with everyone else’s. I argued that people should pay more tax in retirement. So I suppose I asked for it. But by far the best way to explore inter-generational concerns is to break things down and look at each issue in turn. So here’s my scorecard:
Pay and unemployment: People in their 20s have been hit hardest by the financial crisis. Youth unemployment has been very high and this is the first cohort that is not earning more than their older peers were at the same age. Intergenerational problem? Let’s hope not. We’re all in deep trouble if employment, pay and productivity don’t recover as the economy picks up. Assuming they do, over the long term, today’s 20-somethings will earn more than their parents.
Housing and wealth: Lots of people have made big paper profits from the housing boom – and getting on the housing ladder is now very hard for young people without family help. But most older people haven’t actually benefited directly as few turn this wealth into consumption during their own lifetime. Intergenerational problem? Sort of. But it’s more a problem of intra-generational fairness as life chances are now so affected by inheritance. Governments should take action to increase the affordability of housing through house building and tax reform.
Pensions: It’s complicated. Some retired people got lucky because government and business failed to keep up with rapidly rising life expectancies. But over the long term, the pension age looks like it will increase in a way that is reasonable for each cohort and a lifetime auto-enrolled into a Defined Contribution pension should lead to a secure retirement. In the meantime, there will be lots of people with very poor pension provision in every age group. Intergenerational problem? Partially, but mainly a one-off effect for some ‘lucky’ babyboomers.
Public spending: People should receive more in state provision at the start and end of their lives than in the middle. As long as each generation can expect the same there’s no problem. Indeed today’s young adults will probably receive more since they will lead longer lives, possibly with more illness at the end; and despite tuition fees the taxpayer today spends more on higher education today than in previous generations. So broadly the settlement works, as long as it is fiscally sound so that future promises can be kept. Intergenerational problem? No, but there is a danger that the welfare state will fail to invest in the future, if we ‘back-load’ resources to the end of our lives.
Tax: Older people pay less tax for every pound of income they receive. It’s hard to explain why that should be, particularly since when older households typically have more wealth too. Inter-generational problem? Yes. If you want to do something about inter-generational fairness, start here.
What do you think needs to happen to make the UK the best country to grow older in?
What concerns you most about growing older and why?
Please leave us or the blogger a comment below.
Or send us your responses through our consultation response form.