UK ‘failing its young’ says equality report

A new report has warned that there is a widening gap of inequality between Britain’s youngest and oldest citizens. Has life improved for young people over time?

On Saturday, a group of young activists set up tents in London’s Parliament Square, protesting at what they described as a ‘declaration of war on young people’.

The protest came as a new report by the Intergenerational Foundation found that, since 2010, overall prospects for the UK’s younger people have declined by 10% in areas such as housing, education, health, income and debt. It argues that there is a ‘widening gap’ between those under 30 and over 60, causing the economist Lawrence Kotlikoff to describe intergenerational inequality as the ‘moral issue’ of today’s world.

Last week, many also accused George Osborne’s first budget for the new Conservative government of unnecessarily targeting the young. They cited changes to the tax credit system which would leave millions of families worse off, as well as the stipulation that the new ‘living wage’ would only apply to people over 25.

Things have changed dramatically over the last half century. In 1957, the Conservative Prime Minister Harold Macmillan said ‘most of our people have never had it so good’. After the devastation of two world wars, the government had rebuilt a booming economy by creating jobs and security through a welfare state which provided free healthcare, education and benefits for those living in poverty. The ‘baby boomers’ and their parents enjoyed a new-found prosperity.

Now, those children are benefitting from pensions that have been protected from government cuts. Co-founder of the Intergenerational Foundation, Angus Hanton, said that they were hoping to draw the attention of the older generation to the problem of inequality. ‘Unfortunately human nature means people think “We did something to deserve our comfortable lives, we’re entitled” – and the baby boomers are experts at that.’

Fountain of youth

Things may be tough at the moment, say many, but don’t forget that we live in a world with vast new opportunities. The internet allows access to knowledge and communication that was unimaginable 50 years ago, and there have been huge advances in medicine. Meanwhile, global travel is easier and cheaper than ever before. ‘Kids today don’t know they’re born,’ goes the old refrain. This may be an exaggeration — but they do have opportunities their grandparents only dreamed of.

‘But how can we enjoy travel and technology that we cannot afford?’ ask the young people hit hardest by the financial crisis. Almost half of the UK’s benefits are spent on pensions for an ageing population, so it is the younger generations which have been hurt by welfare cuts. They may have smart phones, but most cannot afford the security of buying their own home. Their future has been stolen without their consent.

You Decide

  1. Has the government really ‘declared war’ on the young?
  2. Do you feel as though you have more opportunities than your parents? What about your grandparents?

Activities

  1. Role play: split into pairs, with one playing the role of a teenager in the 1960s, and the other as yourself in 2015. Which of you is better off?
  2. Write a letter to the Labour government in 1945, as they plan the welfare state. What advice will you give them, with 21st-century hindsight?

Some People Say...

“Leadership is not about the next election, it’s about the next generation.”

Simon Sinek

What do you think?

Q & A

The future seems terrifying!
It will probably involve a lot of hard work — but that has been true for every generation. Don’t let it stop you from dreaming big! If you’re particularly worried, try outlining some realistic goals with a careers adviser. But it’s almost summer: don’t forget to enjoy the here and now, too!
Was the budget really that bad?
There are a lot of new policies which will directly affect young people. However, the Conservative model is built on creating more jobs and opportunities — in theory, policies like cutting corporation tax are there so that businesses can employ more people. There is also a new ‘apprenticeship levy’ on large businesses to help fund more training. The government has pledged to train 3m more apprentices by 2020.

Word Watch

Tax credit
Part of a complicated benefit system, there to help Britain’s poorest paid people. The most controversy has come from changes to child tax credits. Currently, these can pay up to £2,780 a year per child for an unlimited number of children. However, this will now be limited to just two children if they are born after April 2017.
Living wage
For those over 25, the minimum wage will increase to £7.20 in April 2016, rising to £9 per hour by 2020. However, the Living Wage Foundation sets the current living wage at £9.15 per hour in London and £7.25 elsewhere, causing many to argue that even for those over 25, the government’s plans do not go far enough.
Welfare state
In 1942, William Beveridge wrote a report which outlined the creation of a welfare state based on three pillars: a national health service, child benefit, and full employment. The new form of ‘national insurance’ would protect its citizens ‘from the cradle to the grave’. The plans were implemented by the newly-elected Labour government in 1945.
Baby boomers
This roughly includes anyone born between 1946 and 1964.

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