Intergenerational Fairness: Are we really building a fair future for our young people?

The challenges that young people face today are considerably different to what the previous generations faced. The baby boomers spent much of their lives enjoying a resilient and rewarding economy, with prospects of owning a house regarded as being the norm.

These days, as a young person, it’s not even a realistic goal, let alone normal. Between 2001 and 2011, house prices rose three times faster than wages. As a double whammy, we saw the recession hit wages and young people’s employment prospects particularly hard. Whilst unemployment is dropping, too many of us know young people settling for part-time work, zero-hours contracts and underemployment because they know that some work is better than none.

With these factors in mind, it is no surprise that the Office for National Statistics has revealed that 1 in 4 young people (aged 20 – 34) are still sharing their homes with their parents. Quite simply, we are an anchored generation, without the strength or ability to reach the surface for air.

But there are other barriers. We face a higher education crisis. I use the term crisis because it is becoming clearer by the day that the government is waking up to the fact that its current funding model is unsustainable, due to many debts never being repaid. Thankfully, campaigners have managed to fight off the latest quick-fix funding solution, the privatisation of student loans, announced by Vince Cable recently in response to a question I put to him at Social Liberal Forum conference. This would have once been seen as a niche issue, however a huge proportion of young people are now opting to access higher education, meaning that we can no longer treat it as such.

Whilst previous generation enjoyed a free education, the Sutton Trust revealed that current graduates will be saddled with enough debt that their repayments will be the equivalent to an extra 6p income tax. This would be the case for middle earners into their 50s, a time when many will already be struggling, particularly if they have families to look after.

I do not resent the elderly. They deserve help from the state. I don’t resent free bus passes, free TV license, the winter fuel allowance and pensions that ensure they retire in dignity. What I do resent is the notion that my generation is less deserving of a fair future. That somehow we alone should be left, unequipped, to navigate tough economic conditions set by the generation that caused this mess.

At its heart, intergenerational fairness is about taking into account future generations when making policy. For a sustainable future, economically AND environmentally, this must always be at the heart of the Liberal Democrats – inside and outside of government.

 

Piece originally posted on Lib Dem Voice.

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