The House of Commons Work and Pensions Select Committee has just launched an inquiry into intergenerational fairness. It asks among other things whether older generations, particularly baby boomers, have fared better than younger generations.
Reducing intergenerational inequity is the challenge of our times. United for All Ages' latest report, 'Fairness for all ages', highlights twenty ways in which the widening gap between older and young people could be closed.
Key recommendations include a commission on fair tax, a national task force on the supply of older people's housing, new schemes to boost asset accumulation by young people, flexible working for all ages, a national retirement service, and an intergenerational convention bringing older and young people together to share views and discuss priorities.
The widening gap between generations is highlighted by the latest household wealth data (2012-14), published at the end of 2015 by the Office for National Statistics. This shows that the wealthiest 10% of households own 45% of total household wealth while the least wealthy half of households own 9%, and the wealthiest are getting richer faster. Over a quarter of individuals (26%) live in households with negative net financial wealth, with over a third of children under 16 and young people aged 16-34 living in such households; the households with the highest net financial wealth are aged 55 plus. Those aged 25-34 tend to live in households with a higher level of debt than other age groups, while those aged 65 and over tend to live in households with the lowest value of financial debt and are least likely to have a debt burden.
'Fairness for all ages' features contributions from some twenty national organisations concerned about intergenerational inequity - ranging from Barnardo's and the Family and Childcare Trust to the International Longevity Centre and Grandparents Plus, together with Demos, the RSA, Friends of the Earth and the Strategic Society Centre.
In the report, these organisations have all shared ideas and plans to promote intergenerational equity and better relations between young and older people. Young and older people are least likely to mix with other age groups and young people are often excluded from political decision-making that shapes their future.
Key proposals in the paper include:
* a commission into fair taxation for all ages, with transparency about income, wealth and debt for different generations, a review of inheritance tax and ending anomalies like age-related National Insurance exemptions
* building 300,000 homes a year with a mix of affordable homes for young and older people, and a national taskforce on the supply of retirement housing, downsizing and other options for older people such as Homeshare
* encouraging all families with children to save and accumulate assets for their future with a range of government assisted saving schemes
* work-life balance for all ages at work, including flexible working options for older people who are grandparents and/or carers of adults, plus two way mentoring to exchange skills and knowledge between workers of all ages
* opening up community facilities such as children's centres and care homes as community hubs or shared spaces for people and families of all ages
* a national retirement service to encourage older people to volunteer and share skills and experience with younger people
* stopping the burning of fossil fuels completely within a generation and ending the investment of pension and other funds in the fossil fuel industry
* creating a national intergenerational convention bringing older and younger people together to debate key national issues and priorities affecting all generations, supported by local conventions
The widening gap between older and younger generations must be closed to create a stronger Britain and stronger communities. Many families now rely on the bank of gran and grandad to survive and prosper, but this is only exacerbating inequality and reducing social mobility. Much more could be done on housing, tax, public services, work and sustainability to help both older and younger generations. The 'Fairness for all ages' report sets out how. A key starting point must be transparency and fairness on tax and debt and what each generation pays and owes.
We owe it to the generations that follow us to create a better world in which all ages can prosper. That requires leadership by government at all levels. Bringing older and young people together through a regular intergenerational convention could break down barriers, open up public discussion and set priorities on key issues facing all generations. One such issue may be a guarantee on future entitlements to public services such as health and care being paid for today, and entitlement to welfare being based on need, rather than age.