A helping hand from the older generation
Look back at many of the "pinchpoints" in our history, when times were tough, food was short, and jobs hard to come by, and you'll always find a few siren voices (not least in the media) heaping the blame on one minority group or another.
It stops us blaming ourselves. And it stops us blaming those in power too.
And this time round there are worrying signs that among those "copping the blame" are the older generation. Look at websites like those of the (oddly named) "Intergenerational Foundation" – which is actively looking to shape public and Government's thinking – and you will find older people being castigated for, variously, leaving the younger generation in debt, out of work, unable to afford a university education and facing a lifetime of paying off what we – the so called "boomer generation" – have apparently squandered over the years.
Gold-plated pensions, houses the young can't afford, benefits they don't need… and they have the nerve to be the biggest users of the NHS. Why don't these old gimmers just shuffle off into the twilight?
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It's enough to cause intergenerational strife. Which I can only assume is what is wanted. That, and/or encourage government policies to slash back on pensions and benefits, and make more people pay for their healthcare.
So is the older generation living off the backs of the young? Let's get a couple of things in perspective.
Complaint: younger people cannot get on to the housing ladder.
The reason? So few houses have been built over the last few decades that demand outstrips supply.
Answer: build more homes and bring the prices down.
Ideally, build more homes that older people can downsize to – dedicated retirement accommodation which is energy efficient and cheap to run (so preventing the 25,000 excess winter deaths we see each year in our country).
This would also enable older people to release funds to pay for their retirement and care in later life, and allow younger people to move into the much-needed family homes that they vacate.
Complaint: younger people can't get work. The reason? We are in the fifth year of a recession – for which you can blame the banks and the governments, not any one section of our society. So should older people stand aside and give up their jobs?
Answer: there is hard evidence to show that keeping older people in the workplace gives a significant boost to our GDP (as when women entered the workforce in big numbers). That actually expands our economy, so creating more jobs.
Laying off older people will see millions of them either in, or entering, retirement with no savings or pensions, and depending on the State for the rest of their lives. Is that what we want?
Complaint: young people cannot afford to go to college, whereas the younger generation had it all for free.
Answer: My university education (and that of others) was free or heavily subsidised. But that was because very, very few of us had the opportunity to go to college – just a couple of per cent in fact. That was why our society then could afford to do that. Everyone else was out at work at 16 or 18 earning a living. Was that generation really that privileged?
Complaint: pensions place a huge burden on our economy.
Answer: that's also true. It's a figure that's going to keep on growing too, as we age as a society. And some pensions have proved patently unsustainable – notably in the higher echelons of the public sector. I would also (personally) question whether universal benefits are really needed by the very well off.
But virtually all those now retiring are really struggling as annuity rates have plummeted (as part of the Government's low interest rate policy). Their savings in banks and building societies are also on interest rates at (or even below) inflation.
So the majority of pensioners are being just as squeezed as the rest of the population – even though most have spent a lifetime putting money into the pension system.
There is no question that younger people are having a tough time at the moment. The older generation know this: we have children and grandchildren and see the situation from all sides.
What's more we are trying to help. Grandparent care has been valued at more than £7.3billion a year. Many of us are subbing our grandchildren as they go through college. Many more are using their savings to help their children buy a first home.
And what about these wonderful homes that older people have and younger people don't? In fact these are the very assets that they are expected to trade in, in order to pay for their care in later life.
If (as has been famously said) we are all in this together, let's work together to find practical solutions that help all the generations.