The Blog

The Baby-Gloomers - the battle to win over angry 55-64 year olds

With the budget looming, all the political teams are furiously searching for eye-catching policies that appeal to the key audiences they need to please. For Osborne, it's all about winning back the Tory right. For Balls, it's about winning back economic credibility. But little of their pre-budget positioning has so far focused on a segment that both need to win. A group which is currently deeply unhappy with politicians and are also disproportionately influential in political and social circles.

I speak of UK's Baby Boomers who I think we should currently re-name the Baby-Gloomers.

Baby Boomers are the much studied demographic who, on the face of it, have had a pretty good run of cards in the game of life. Born in the early post-war years, they grew up in an era of optimism, progress and economic growth, where the years of depression and conflict were thrown off and giant leaps for mankind, were shown to be possible. In 2013, many of them are reasonably well-off, with their own home and savings in the bank. Jeremy Paxman, himself part of this group, calls them the "Luckiest Generation". Not the most in need for budget giveaways, perhaps.

But in the last couple of years, many in this group have begun to feel anything but lucky. In fact their over-riding emotion is one of anger. Anger that, despite working hard all their lives, paying their taxes and contributing to society, the comfortable retirement they had been anticipating is a fading dream. Watch them in focus groups and there is barely contained fury that the life they thought they were going to have is disappearing before their eyes.

For the "Gloomers" the financial crash and on-going economic downturn aren't simply a national catastrophe but a broken promise. Instead of finishing their working life in their 50s, many are facing redundancy or, even if they are still in work, financial uncertainty for years to come. And this is a sudden change. In 2008 a poll of 55-64 year olds showed only 1% uncertain when they would be able to retire. By 2012 this number had leapt to 44%.

Baby-Gloomers are furious with the leaders of the political and corporate world, who they blame for dashing their dreams for a pleasant retirement, and their disappointment, distrust and cynicism is shown in one of their signature characteristics - that is a total loss of trust in most institutions of society.

They are simultaneously the group most interested in politics and the group most critical of the way the country is run. Far from being small-c conservatives, they are the least trusting of Parliament, with three quarters thinking the present system of government needs significant change. Although typically right-leaning, in the Eastleigh by-election the 55-64 year old segment contained a large group of traditional Conservative voters who didn't vote Tory, in order to send the party the message that things have to be done differently.

Outside politics, contrary to the stereotype that sees the young as wanting "to stick it to the man", it's the 55-64 age group who are the most distrusting of multi-national companies, financial services and CEOs. They are the least trusting of TV news reports and are the most likely to complain to institutions like the BBC. Although not the biggest social media users, members of this age group reporting having posted negative comments on company websites has quadrupled.

Their anger matters to politicians and CEOs because, regardless of the argument that the Gloomers have a lot less to be gloomy about than some other age groups, the 55-64 year olds also happen to be disproportionately impactful on both the fortunes of political parties and the commercial success and reputation of businesses.

In politics, they are the voter segment most likely to vote, most likely to be active politically and most likely to campaign and engage on political issues. In 2010 their preference for the Conservatives helped David Cameron into No 10 and if Ed Miliband intends to be the next PM he needs more Gloomer votes at the general election.

In business, they are not only the group with the most disposable income but they have the most disposable influence. They are the lynchpins of their communities, running local clubs and organisations so are disproportionately influential. They are also the complainers, the letter writers to newspapers, the petition-signers, the armchair critics of many businesses. Their protests may not be as high profile as those on Twitter but businesses need to be sensitive to their concerns - almost 1 in 6 of this age group have boycotted products on political, environmental or ethical grounds and, given their spending power, this matters.

The Baby Gloomers are definitely not the most impoverished or needy in Britain today. By many standards, they should be happy. But the chasm between expectation and reality means they're not. Politicians and business leaders should ignore them at their peril.