Why is it easier to cut services for students than elderly?


by Laurie Penny    
10:30 am - September 4th 2010

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contribution by Laurie Penny and Ben Little

In recent weeks, the conservative right has begun to annex the anger that today’s harassed young people are feeling towards the unprecedented privilege of the baby boomer generation.

George Osborne claims that ‘intergenerational fairness’ is a key plank in his rationale for the budget, while Nick Clegg’s argument that it is “morally wrong” to pass debt from one generation to another is a cleverly constrained excuse for his party’s conversion to a narrative of economic cuts.

Simply slashing the state, however, will not solve the problems of what Shiv Malik and Ed Howker call the ‘jilted generation’.

The narrative presented is that the baby boomers enjoyed a whole range of unaffordable benefits – free education, full employment, a supportive welfare state, generous social housing and good pensions – which were sustained through imprudent government borrowing, and which their children will have to finance.

The country, the story goes, must now live within its means, and its means will be defined by paying as little tax as possible. This interpretation of the economic crisis misrepresents the deficit as a burden caused by the welfare state, rather than by the collapse of the very economic models that are responsible for the collapse of the Attlee settlement under Thatcher, Blair and Gordon Brown.

Real generational activists refuse to be purchased to a programme of cuts. Real generational activists agitate for higher state spending and fairer distribution of the benefits our parents enjoyed, not for further spending cuts in order to somehow ‘rectify’ the demographic anomaly which allowed the baby boomers to enjoy relative security and social mobility.

However, as the left remains silent about the plight of Generation Y, the argument for cutting spending has come to dominate the discourse of intergenerational politics.

From 1979 onwards, nearly all the benefits that the baby boomers enjoyed have been eroded one by one, but even as the Chancellor prepares to decimate state spending, the immediate needs of those born between 1945 and 1960- the voting block most likely to decide the outcome of elections – have been prioritised.

As Francis Beckett observed in his recent book, ‘What did the Baby Boomers ever do for us?’ when this generation was young, it decided that the state could afford to prioritise free higher education; now it is reaching retirement, it has decided that the state can afford to prioritise protecting pensions.

Suggesting a cut to the universal winter fuel allowance for over sixties is seen as far more politically risky than cutting university places. But if the fuel allowance was means-tested, it could free up funding for tens of thousands of suitably qualified school leavers to take up their hard earned places in higher education.

Rather than being intrinsically selfish, the baby boomers have reaped the benefits of a greater focus within public services while paying a lower proportion of the costs. Lack of malice, however, does not change the fact that Generation Y are being marginalised in the workforce, sidelined in the welfare system and shut out of a housing market when the baby boomers are hoarding an enormous proportion of British property assets.

This is not about raging against mum and dad. This is about fairness, plain and simple – about who owns the property and power, and how we share out that property and power more fairly. The narrative of intergenerational fairness is the natural territory of the British left, not the conservative right.

Uncomfortable as it may be for middle-aged liberals to accept, today’s generational conflict is far more than a brattish attack by twenty- somethings on their parents. It is a simple, visceral call for fairer distribution of wealth, property and power.

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About the author
Laurie Penny is a regular contributor to Liberal Conspiracy. She is a journalist, blogger and feminist activist. She is Features Assistant at the Morning Star, and blogs at Penny Red and for Red Pepper magazine.
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Story Filed Under: Blog ,Economy ,Equality

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Reader comments


You could always set up a UK version of this to try and get the message through…

@1 – That Boomer Death Counter – the percentage dead + the percentage not yet dead = about 87%.

Are 13% of American boomers ‘undead’?

3. the a&e charge nurse

‘What did the Baby Boomers ever do for us’
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ExWfh6sGyso&feature=related

It is a great shame that very little of this post is on the topic indicated by the headline. The rest comes across as somewhat naïve whining about how unfair life is, almost like Kevin the Teenager has started writing for LC.

Why is it easier to cut services for students than the elderly?

Because the elderly vote, and students don’t.

Iain: I voted and I am a student. My dad didn’t, and he is a baby boomer. I had to persuade my mom to come and vote with me. Yet many of my friends voted. I’d have to say that you are most definitely wrong.

“This is about fairness, plain and simple – about who owns the property and power, and how we share out that property and power more fairly.”

Seems pretty obviously ‘fair’ that those who have worked, earned, bought property themselves, and contributed money to the state via taxation over their lives have a greater claim than those who are too young to have done so, does it not?

‘Generational conflict’ my arse — this post is yet another sad example of identity politics, pure and simple.

Blaming baby boomers for the current state of welfare is nonsense, if you want an easy-fix cause, blame Thatcher, who ensured that social housing stock (paid for by the 50s, 60s and 70s taxpayers) was sold-off, consequently, we now have the rents of thousands of privately owned houses being paid for by housing benefit and have lost millions of pounds worth of income from rents. Care of the elderly has gone a similar way with private nursing homes and community care (charging huge fees). Add this to the crisis (caused by private financial institutions) and we have a massive problem.
But to get to the root of the problem, it’s necessary to understand that the welfare state was the social policy which under-pinned the economics of Keynes and its’ emphasis on full-employment (for men) Those voters, up until after the 1979 election, voted for the party which they believed could best administer this state corporatism, there was no other choice among the mainstream parties. The moment Thatcher started moving away from Keynes, the whole began to fall apart, and although she attempted to reform the benefits system, the massive unemployment she caused, made the whole system costly, unstable and unsustainable. Added to this, the ideological society, which the welfare state was meant to serve, didn’t reflect the reality.
But to single out a particular social group as being responsible just shifts attention away from the fact that the whole economic system is now inherently unstable,and changing small pieces of it won’t address this problem.
Those on LC who believe that the labour party should retain its’ centre ground would do well to read Schumpeter’s ‘Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy’ and so too those who believe that one social group are responsible for the current mess.

“Seems pretty obviously ‘fair’ that those who have worked, earned, bought property themselves, and contributed money to the state via taxation over their lives have a greater claim than those who are too young to have done so, does it not?”

Not really. Not if the current group of youngsters haven’t been given the same opportunity to work, earn, buy property, and contribute money to the state via taxation because they didn’t start with the same starting benefits as those have worked and earned.

The fairest policy would be to honestly attempt to give the children of baby boomers the same opportunities that the baby boomers themselves had. Especially if that’s the generation which will be looking after and paying for the retirement of the boom generation with none of the benefits when and if they retire.

I mean it is only right to want the best for your children, isn’t it?

While the baby boomers may not be wholly culpable the main thrust of this analysis is spot on. It is about a fair distribution of goods and power, exactly the things being withdrawn by the tories.

Think it’s pretty silly, really, to try and claim the issues of the recession for oneself or one’s own generation.

The effects of the recession aren’t about generation – they’re about class and birthright. I’ve talked to all kinds of people lately who are really suffering – old, young, Generation X, Y, as well as people who were born postwar and fit – at least as far as age is concerned – into the babyboom generation:

http://liberalconspiracy.org/2010/08/31/the-poor-wont-thrive-in-big-society/

and they’re all without jobs, shut out of the housing market and so on – they suffer all the issues outlined in the OP.

There’s nothing wrong with being angry on behalf of a peer group, but all the above stuff sounds like well-off and born-to-privilege kids being angry with well-off Mum and Dad for having it all and pissing it away before Gen Y could get its hands on it. It also sounds very much an attempt to get a piece of the mainstream’s latest marketing line – there seem to be column inches in inter-generational angst at the moment. That’s a red herring. It’s not about generation or age. It’s about class.

The truth is that unemployment, lack of secure housing, fear, worry about the future and care, etc, are not exclusive to Generation Y. Those issues are the property of everyone who earns less than about £30,000 a year, which is most people. Generation Y is certainly suffering – I’ve got two stepsons aged 19 and 23 and their employment and education prospects look non existent much of the time. We’ve got about four people in our house atm hanging off one salary. Age isn’t the issue, though. The issue is one of privilege and class, or a lack of it.

I was very interested by what you’ve written here, so I wandered over to the IFS to get some actual data about taxes and spending.

The first thing I notice is that in the period you’re talking about, 1979 to 2010, benefit spending went up from about £74bn (adjusted for inflation) to £187bn per year. It never decreased significantly.

And then, taxes. Tax revenue also has been increasing steadily since 1979. Again, this has never decreased, and adjusting for inflation, the state is at least 50% more expensive than it was in 1979.

So, since 1979, the government has got more and more money, and spent more and more of it on benefits, which are now more than twice as generous as they were in 1979. Meanwhile the population has increased by only 10%.

However, you say that benefits have been cut since 1979. Maybe you are right. But if so, where has the money gone? There’s more money going in, and more money going out – and yet if people are not getting the benefits they used to get, what could be happening?

If you are right, then the establishment must be absorbing the extra money. The government is being more and more generous – even Thatcher increased benefit spending by £25bn in 2010 money – but if the people are not receiving the benefits, then the only explanation is that the middlemen have been wasting the extra cash. The DWP, the DHSS, the NHS: wasteful? Whoever heard of such a thing!

Perhaps what you really want for your “generational equality” is cuts within the cancerous public service bureaucracy, so that more money reaches the people who need it, instead of middle managers whose main role is to constantly justify their own existence. But that’s a pretty tough problem, because these guys effectively *are* the government, they’ve been in place for decades, and their purpose is resistance to reform.

Maybe you have more in common with the “rightwing” than you think? Maybe we can even agree that it’s the “public servants” in the middle who make the system so incredibly wasteful.

Vladimir @ 12

Your analysis is spot on.

This interpretation of the economic crisis misrepresents the deficit as a burden caused by the welfare state, rather than by the collapse of the very economic models that are responsible for the collapse of the Attlee settlement ..

Not sure I understand this bit. Perhaps I’m being a bit dim, but could you expand on what exactly collapsed and how that drove up the deficit.

@14: “Not sure I understand this bit. Perhaps I’m being a bit dim, but could you expand on what exactly collapsed and how that drove up the deficit.”

Try Martin Wolf in the FT on how far Gordon Brown is to blame for the budget deficit:

“Can we not at least blame Mr Brown for the bloated public spending and grotesque fiscal deficits? Yes, but also only up to a point. Between 1999-2000 and 2007-08, the ratio of total managed spending to GDP did rise from 36.3 per cent to 41.1 per cent. But the latter was still modest, by the standards of the previous four decades. The jump to a ratio of 48.1 per cent, forecast for this year in the 2010 Budget, is due to the recession. Nominal spending is currently forecast at 3.5 per cent higher in 2010-11 than forecast in the 2008 Budget. But nominal GDP will be 10.3 per cent lower and tax revenues 16.4 per cent lower. Critics of his fiscal policies were right, but the error was far larger than anybody imagined. It is true, however, that Mr Brown must take a share of the blame for Labour’s failure to ensure the extra spending would be well managed.”
http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/3074d7ba-5ec0-11df-af86-00144feab49a.html

For a historical survey of public spending for the period since WW2, try this from the IFS:

A Survey of Public Spending in the UK (September 2009):
http://www.ifs.org.uk/bns/bn43.pdf

I think the key factor that has been missed out is the difference between the middle class baby boomers and the working class (poorer) elderly who are being squeezed just as hard, if not harder by the cuts.

Fine, means test the winter fuel allowance – but use the money to increase the level and quality of care for older adults. At the moment, for those older adults who are dependent on the state and who have not been ‘gathering up the resources’, we have pretty poor provision for them at the moment.

It isn’t as simple as a generational analysis. The cuts in community care budgets and the way that eligibility criteria are being squeezed in social services does not provide today’s older adult (those that do not have access to their own property etc etc) with what they need.

The Telegraph’s assessment of Osborne’s emergency budget on 22 June was that pensioners would be hit especially hard:

“Pensioners are the biggest losers – Pensioners came out as one of its biggest losers in George Osborne’s emergency Budget.”
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/personalfinance/how-budget-affect-me/7847875/Budget-2010-Pensioners-are-the-biggest-losers.html

18. Alisdair Cameron

This is not about raging against mum and dad

and

today’s generational conflict is far more than a brattish attack…

…but that’s not how you’re coming across, because you’re falling into a huge,generalising trap that fits the ConDem narrative. You’re castigating a nonsensical concept of everyone fitting within a certain age-bracket,regardless of their actual privilege,circumstances or (dis)advantage, thus taking your eyes off the real enclaves of privilege and power, which are overwhelmingly class-and-income based and cut across all age boundaries: there are many poor and never rich within the crass baby-boomer label (incidentally a label that going by the various uses seems to cover 40 years worth of births) and, whisper it quietly, rich and privileged among the young.

Chaminda you may want to read it again, the second line, the Total not yet dead is not a percentage. Its a total. Otherwise the percentage not dead would be 76,835,7500.17% when I wrote this, which would be even more absurd.

ffs it’s not about old v young; it’s [as always] about class. you think any of these cuts are going to hit the rich more than the poor? there we go then.

Agree with the people saying that the cuts are about class, not age.

If you are a younger person from a well-off background, your parents will help you get a home, through their contacts you will be able to get a job, and in due course you will inherit large amounts of wealth.

And if you are comparing generational advantage, it is at least worth mentioning the fact that the baby boomers were growing up at a time when misogyny, homophobia and racism were absolutely endemic in a way that it absolutely inconceivable now.

As for the idea that services for the elderly aren’t being cut, nearly half the people who receive housing benefit are pensioners, and the state of care for the elderly is a national scandal and will get worse thanks to the cuts. The cuts hurt people who are poor, regardless of their age, and calling for winter fuel allowance to be means tested to fund university places is playing the divide and rule games which undermines social solidarity.

In this specific case, if the campaign “wins” and manage to get winter fuel allowance means tested, more poor pensioners will end up going without the heating that they need because they won’t or can’t claim the means tested benefits.

This “analysis” from Beckett, Willetts and so on that tries to divide people against each other based on their age is a load of rubbish, and it is a shame to see dedicated and effective campaigners like the authors wasting their time with it.

Spot on Don.

23. the a&e charge nurse

[21] “the state of care for the elderly is a national scandal and will get worse thanks to the cuts” – yes, I agree with this gloomy assessment – frankly I am astonished that anybody is arguing that provision should be reduced even further.
http://news.bbc.co.uk/panorama/hi/front_page/newsid_7990000/7990682.stm

Yet more beautifully written nonsense from Ms Penny. A couple of massive factors she’s ignored

a) one of the greatest boomer failures was failing to reproduce. Fertility (TFR) drops by about 40% between 1957 and 1977. Six million-odd abortions have probably helped, too. (see the linked graph)

b) particularly bad news is that State pensions (including pensions for State employees) were and are mostly unfunded – in other words current taxpayers pay for the retirees – same principle as any other Ponzi scheme. This is fine as long as you have a large number of young taxpayers supporting a small retiree population. But there are a LOT of ageing boomers and not so many young taxpayers. Ponzi schemes usually collapse in the end.

c) the low birthrate and mass abortion were themselves the result of the 60s Cultural Revolution, which created our current civilised society. Paradoxically, our government solved the problem of a low birthrate and mass abortion by importing millions of people from cultures with a more Victorian attitude to children (a blessing), sex education (‘Don’t!’) and abortion – who willingly had the babies the natives just didn’t want to have. What I’m not sure is how willing these New Brits will be to pay massive taxes in order that the oldies get their pensions and healthcare.

“Pierre Cailleteau, Team MD of Moody’s sovereign risk group, and Mares’ boss, says safe havens’ triple-A status, “depends on two potentially unstable notions: continued public trust in government institutions, including the currency, and sustained inter-generational solidarity mechanisms.” It is the latter of these that gives the US, Germany, Japan and the UK such huge room for manoeuvre”

What they’re talking about in the end is a stable political culture plus intergenerational solidarity, which means the UK can run up debts now and be confident that future taxpayers will pay them off.

But think about it. “Continued public trust in government institutions”. How’s that going, eh ? While I don’t want to get too apocalyptic, I think it’s reasonable to say that trust is falling, and indeed I’d be hard put to think of when it was lower – Peterloo ? 1926 ?

As for “sustained inter-generational solidarity mechanisms” – well that phrase tends to imply that we’re talking different generations of the same group of people. This will be less and less the case. On the one hand, you’ll have a rapidly rising number of oldies who won’t have any descendants, and a rapidly rising number of ethnic minority youngies who’ll be heavily taxed to pay for a load of hideous old whities, who they’ll have been taught at school are responsible for all the ills of the world.

Right now 23% of the children in primary schools (England and Wales figures) are ‘ethnic minority’ and the proportion rises every year, with natives forecast to be a minority by 2073. How will these ‘sustained mechanisms’ pan out in such a scenario ?

12. Vladimir

‘ I was very interested by what you’ve written here, so I wandered over to the IFS to get some actual data about taxes and spending.

The first thing I notice is that in the period you’re talking about, 1979 to 2010, benefit spending went up from about £74bn (adjusted for inflation) to £187bn per year. It never decreased significantly.

And then, taxes. Tax revenue also has been increasing steadily since 1979. Again, this has never decreased, and adjusting for inflation, the state is at least 50% more expensive than it was in 1979.

So, since 1979, the government has got more and more money, and spent more and more of it on benefits, which are now more than twice as generous as they were in 1979. Meanwhile the population has increased by only 10%.

However, you say that benefits have been cut since 1979. Maybe you are right. But if so, where has the money gone? There’s more money going in, and more money going out – and yet if people are not getting the benefits they used to get, what could be happening?

If you are right, then the establishment must be absorbing the extra money. The government is being more and more generous – even Thatcher increased benefit spending by £25bn in 2010 money – but if the people are not receiving the benefits, then the only explanation is that the middlemen have been wasting the extra cash. The DWP, the DHSS, the NHS: wasteful? Whoever heard of such a thing! ‘

You can’t just look at the population increasing by !0% and assume spending should just increase by the same, Vladimir. The composition of the population is what matters for public spending. An older population is more expensive and the 85+ are very expensive. From 1971 to 2008 the proportion of males in the population aged 75+ has more than doubled. Females have increased by 60%. Maybe increases in public spending have been captured by a vast bureaucracy. Alternatively, increases are the inevitable consequence of an ageing population.

More elderly means more pensions, social services, health spending and specialised housing. Therefore, it is perfectly possible for some groups to be experiencing real cuts at the same time public spending is increasing in both nominal and real terms. It would have been a remarkable achievement if benefits spending had not increased under Mrs Thatcher considering the levels of unemployment. Just looking at aggregates does not tell the whole story.

What always intrigues me with allegations of bureaucratic waste in the NHS is if all this waste on administration is a reality how do we manage to spend so little on it vis-a-vis other high income economies. You will need to do a bit of scrolling to see the off the chart US.
http://pjep.org/uploads/resources/1262014762.jpeg

“ith natives forecast to be a minority by 2073. How will these ‘sustained mechanisms’ pan out in such a scenario ?”

As we’ll both probably be dead in 2073 there is very little point in worrying about it, and certainly little point in adopting authoritarian measures that deprive minorities of civil rights.

“In this specific case, if the campaign “wins” and manage to get winter fuel allowance means tested, more poor pensioners will end up going without the heating that they need because they won’t or can’t claim the means tested benefits.”

Indeed. People need to understand that claiming for a means tested benefit is not an easy thing to do; it is a degrading and depressing process, one that many people who are eligible (and who need the support such benefits would give) shy away from (myself included, actually). It’s especially hard for the elderly to do so, particularly when they’re old enough (and working class enough) to remember the Means Test during the Depression. If winer fuel allowance is means tested, people will die.

24 – I think that it is brave of you to preface your elaborate fantasy scenarios about the future breakdown of public trust in government institutions and intergenerational solidarity, caused by abortion, immigration, state schools and the state pension scheme, by accusing others of writing “beautifully written nonsense”.

OP: “In recent weeks, the conservative right has begun to annex the anger that today’s harassed young people are feeling towards the unprecedented privilege of the baby boomer generation.”

The quote above is from the first paragraph, after which analysis drops like snow from the roof top on a sunny day.

Describing the fortune of the baby boom generation as a privilege misuses the concept of privilege. Privilege is given to one person with the immediate disbenefit of others. It is daft to talk about a “privileged generation” when economic and social benefits are unfairly disbursed within generations.

Lets take the argument about access to higher education. In the 1970s, the Open University started; universities (degree level) and polytechnics (degree level and lower) widened their doors; at that time 10% of adults attained a degree or similar qualification. Of that 10%, many would be studying part time. It was an affordable solution.

Alas it is not affordable to offer higher education on the same terms to 40%+ of young adults. Students today have to borrow money to pay back part of the cost of their higher education; the reason is not that baby boomers have closed the door (many of them will be paying for the education of children and grand children); the reason is that politicians have failed to create a sensible higher education debate.

For the benefit of Laurie Penny and Ben Little, I have created a short historical summary:
* 90% of the baby boom generation did not go to university.
* Secondary education for baby boomers had inconsistent merit: some good, some bad.
* Not all baby boomers were wealthy enough to buy a house.
* The majority of council house tenants did not buy their home.
* Universal benefits are universal because nobody in government has accepted a better solution. Solutions no doubt exist.
* The Equal Pay Act was signed in 1970. Homosexuality was acknowledged in 1967 alongside liberalisation of abortion.
* In spite of laws, baby boomers lived in a society where racism, homophobia and sexism were more overt than today.

25
Totally agree, your post has saved me a long reply to @12, what also happened in my area was, the massive unemployment caused by the pit-closures led to an increase in ill-health and a huge increase in demand for NHS services and, predominently, the Mental Health Services.
Thatcher’s 1987 welfare reforms did, in fact, decrease benefits to the individual, but the massive unemployment and increase in demand for health-care, meant a masssive cost to taxpayers.

“You can’t just look at the population increasing by !0% and assume spending should just increase by the same, Vladimir. The composition of the population is what matters for public spending. An older population is more expensive and the 85+ are very expensive. From 1971 to 2008 the proportion of males in the population aged 75+ has more than doubled. Females have increased by 60%. Maybe increases in public spending have been captured by a vast bureaucracy. Alternatively, increases are the inevitable consequence of an ageing population.”

Ok, I see. Thankyou for your response. I agree that this partially explains the growth in spending. If we’re doing “from each according to his ability to each according to his needs”, then old people get more because they need more! Viewed like that, “generational inequality” is just young person’s greed.

But I don’t know if that fully explains the growth in welfare spending. Does it? What proportion of the money is now spent on people aged 75+ versus the spending in 1979? It also doesn’t explain the big increase in taxes paid, which suggests that either more people were working, or that jobs were generating more capital.

The reason I’m using aggregates is because specifics are very hard to find. The public service bureaucracies are successful partly because they spend money on themselves while appearing not to spend money on themselves. It’s hard to treat them as anything other than a black box, because they have every reason to obfuscate their activities. This is why they are wasteful and difficult to reform. I know that many politicians have attempted to reform the NHS and succeeded only in adding more bureaucracy and waste, but this is what happens when you paper over the cracks instead of rebuilding a rotten wall.

The US healthcare system actually has exactly the same problem, perhaps to an even greater extent. It’s a heavily regulated system where competition between insurers and hospitals is extremely limited and prices are accordingly high. What do the high prices pay for? Doctors and nurses, yes, but also healthcare bureaucrats. Just like here. The interesting thing is how little effect on life expectancy this has, according to your statistics.

Cutting the winter fuel allowance for the over sixties is seen as a much more risky policy than cutting thousands of university places because pensioners are seen to have much more political capital than students. The elderly population is on the increase and are much more likely to vote than young people in the 18-24 age bracket.

The starkest intergenerational injustice facing generation y is being shut out of the housing market. Older generations took affordable housing for granted; but today millions of young people have been priced out of the market.

33. Chaise Guevara

“Cutting the winter fuel allowance for the over sixties is seen as a much more risky policy than cutting thousands of university places because pensioners are seen to have much more political capital than students. The elderly population is on the increase and are much more likely to vote than young people in the 18-24 age bracket. ”

…And furthermore, people get a lot more outraged about cuts affecting pensioners, seen as a vulnerable group, than those affecting students, seen as a bunch of lazy, know-it-all freeloaders.

This seems especially prevalent among the right, which is odd, because the right-wing credo might be more expected to argue that pensioners have had 50-odd years to save for their retirement and thus deserve nothing.

Why is it easier to cut services for students than elderly?

The simple answer to this is that younger people are less likely to vote than older people.

The narrative of intergenerational fairness is the natural territory of the British left

Really? That’s not obvious to me, based on the policies of the Labour government over the last 13 years, when council house waiting lists have soared, as have average house prices as a multiple of average earnings.

Part of the problem is that it doesn’t make electoral sense for Labour (or any of the other big parties) to care about the 20% of voters under 35 if it means alienating the other 80% of voters.

Instead, I think the Pirate Party may be the right people to connect with the values and aspirations of the Jilted Generation.

@21 donpaskini: playing the divide and rule games which undermines social solidarity

I disagree. It is very often the case that a policy helps some groups of people while hurting others. These groups may be those of age, class, profession, ethnicity, nationality, where people live, etc. Pretending that this is not the case involves refusing to accept the truth, which is that politics is very often about a conflict of interests between some people and other people. Refusing to accept reality is not, in my opinion, likely to lead to optimal public policy.

I must sat I have the desire to scream every time I hear that “the baby boomers enjoyed the benefits of free education”. Such a statement dismisses the experience of the vast majority condemned to secondary moderns with little hope of ever enhoying a free university education. Through intergenerational issue night well be natural territory for the left, but only if it is articulated with an awareness of socio-economic cleavages.

37. the a&e charge nurse

[32] “Cutting the winter fuel allowance for the over sixties is seen as a much more risky policy than cutting thousands of university places because pensioners are seen to have much more political capital than students” – I would have thought that it was riskier because it would almost certainly mean an increase in deaths related to cold conditions?

According to this item – last year 36,700 MORE people died during the winter months compared to summer, but there are predictions that the difference could increase to 45,000 this winter. Andrew Harrop, Head of Public Policy for Age Concern and Help the Aged, said: “These figures are extremely worrying and certainly suggest that the additional death toll due to exceptionally cold weather this winter is likely to top last year’s total of 36,700 people. Last year 2.7 million pensioner households were living in fuel poverty and this year, with energy bills still high and the cold weather forcing people to heat their homes for longer, we fear the numbers of people living in fuel poverty will escalate.
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/topics/weather/6997427/Britains-cold-weather-deaths-soar-as-winter-takes-its-toll.html

Well the tory housebuilding policy willl do jack shit for young people so the idea that the right is trying to help the young is rubbish.

Poor deluded darlings they are being used for a bigger con. More money moving to the rich.

@32 carsonian: “The starkest intergenerational injustice facing generation y is being shut out of the housing market. Older generations took affordable housing for granted; but today millions of young people have been priced out of the market.”

UK baby boomers grew up in prefabs, low cost-build council semis and flats owned by dodgy landlords. Unsurprisingly, when they earned a bit of money, boomers decided to spend it with respectable landlords or to buy their own home.

To argue intergenerational injustice with respect to housing is daft. People who wish to rent a home (who may not necessarily be young) or to buy, do not face generational prejudice. They face economic prejudice (ie not enough money to do it).

No-one has so far mentioned Alix Mortimer’s article The real reasons for young people’s political apathy, so I thought I would. It’s worth reading.

@39: To argue intergenerational injustice with respect to housing is daft.

No it isn’t. An average house costs £60,000 to build, by traditional methods, and £20,000 using modern methods. Yet average house prices are around £220,000, because they are kept artificially high by the state.

High house prices hurt first time buyers, and benefit last time sellers. First time buyers are on average younger than last time sellers, who are typically pensioners, so it is an intergenerational thing.

@39 charlieman: They face economic prejudice (ie not enough money to do it).

If houses cost to buy something near what they cost to build, there wouldn’t be a problem. The problem isn’t that houses are difficult and expensive to build, it’s that governments have artificially rigged the market to make them expensive.

@Phil Hunt

Surely you’d have to rig the market to keep house prices low? After all one of the reasons why they are expensive is because of a few very wealthy people who can make OTT offers.
Say I build a house for £1000. I sell it to my friend for £1K because I’m good like that, but it’s a very nice house and my friend is offered £50K for it.
How would your Party stop that?

House prices are high because land prices are high. Make more land available and prices will come down.

2 problems. First, almost no one in any area wants more land made into housing estates. Lots of nimbys. Second problem is that you now have a generation who don’t want their only asset to crash in price.

But a crises is coming in housing because the average wage is about 24 thousand a year, and the average house price is 160 thousand.

@41 Phil Hunt

When a pensioner sells a house to a young couple, it is trade.

The vacant plot of land at the bottom of the road is an opportunity. If you plant four insta-homes on it, two neighbours deserve consideration surely?

But I agree that the solution for homelessness is to build more homes. And the Green Belt? Build homes for workers.

@43:Mr S Pill: Surely you’d have to rig the market to keep house prices low? After all one of the reasons why they are expensive is because of a few very wealthy people who can make OTT offers. Say I build a house for £1000. I sell it to my friend for £1K because I’m good like that, but it’s a very nice house and my friend is offered £50K for it.

If there were lots of people who could build houses for £1k, then house prices could never rise to £50k, because if they did, lots of people would build houses until the price went down to something like £1k.

@44 sally: almost no one in any area wants more land made into housing estates. Lots of nimbys.

@45 charlieman: The vacant plot of land at the bottom of the road is an opportunity. If you plant four insta-homes on it, two neighbours deserve consideration surely?

The Tories have an idea for local referendums on whether more houses can be built in an area. Of course, being democracy-hasting scum, they want to rig the referendums so that it requires a 80% vote to build more houses. (Aside: if that’s democracy, then all tory MPs should be sacked unless they get 80% of the vote).

But maybe a variation of this idea would work. People at the lowest level of local government (parish councils in E&W, community councils in Scotland) would vote in a referendum on building more houses in their area. The catch is that if the referendum passed, 50% of the difference in value between cost of house building and selling price would be shared out between the voters in the area, to compensate them for any loss of amenity.

So e.g. if there was a plan to build 100 houses in a village with an electorate of 2000, the houses would cost £60k to build and be sold for £200k, then each voter would get a cheque for £7000 if the referendum passed. I can’t imagine many people voting against free money.

@Phil Hunt

Hum, right, but aren’t you assuming that all houses will be equally desirable and in decent locations etc etc ? I mean folk will pay more to be nearer town centre/schools/post office or whatever won’t they?

@47 Phil Hunt: read up on land taxes.

http://www.landvaluetax.org/what-is-lvt/

Elderly people need services more than students because students are unlikely to die as a result of not getting extra services.

And they are ‘extra’. The majority of us do not have access to your tutors, libraries, labs, IT suites, discounted bars, gyms, subsidised participation in sports (and whatever other hobbies your local NUS provides funding for), etc.

Open it all up to the public, or shut up about having to actually pay for so many privileges.

Students are the most privileged even among their own generation. Why does that never get acknowledged? If you are 18-25 and on a full time uni course, you are already way more privileged than a majority of your same-age peers, let alone in comparison to the generations that came before and never had the opportunities for ‘free education’ that you imagine is your birthright.

@49,

Indeed I am somewhat of a Georgist myself.

Thank you,. charlieman, reuben,. It is quite simply nonsense, and rabble-rousing nonsense at that, to suggest that my generation (I was born in 1946) had educational opportunities denied to young people now. It is, I add, sexist nonsense also, as a simple glance at the data (on women’s far lesser participation in higher education and our virtual exclusion from medical school) will show. And yes, the gays of my generation were hardly afforded massive consideration, then.

And all this is even more true for people older than I.

Anonyperson, yes indeed.

I am sorry to see divide and rule at work here, as the posters slide from recognition that they are dealing with a narrative, to its endorsement.

OP, paragraph 2: “George Osborne claims that ‘intergenerational fairness’ is a key plank in his rationale for the budget, while Nick Clegg’s argument that it is “morally wrong” to pass debt from one generation to another is a cleverly constrained excuse for his party’s conversion to a narrative of economic cuts.”

I definitely do not understand this. If it is permissible to pass on economic debt, as the OP suggests, then why not pass on environmental problems to future generations?

OP, paragraph 3: “Simply slashing the state, however, will not solve the problems of what Shiv Malik and Ed Howker call the ‘jilted generation’.”

Who? If you use quotes to qualify your argument, please cite recognised experts.

@Phil Hunt – you’re right about the Alix Mortimer article:

http://fabulousblueporcupine.wordpress.com/2010/02/10/the-real-reasons-for-young-peoples-political-apathy/

That really is good writing – clear, concise and head and shoulders above anyone else in her age group. I find the authors of the OP here almost impenetrable and entirely without heart, experience, or humanity.

OP, paragraph 4: “The narrative presented is that the baby boomers enjoyed a whole range of unaffordable benefits – free education, full employment, a supportive welfare state, generous social housing and good pensions – which were sustained through imprudent government borrowing, and which their children will have to finance.”

The alleged benefits did not exist: free higher education was provided to a small proportion of adults, three million people were unemployed, social security provision was cut in the 1980s, families lived in bed and breakfast establishments, and the unemployed weren’t building up healthy pensions.

So why talk about these imaginary figments?

Sustenance by imprudent government borrowing? You are wrong there. We started to pay back the baby boomer bills under Jim Callaghan and completed the job under Thatcher and Major.

Current silly indebtedness is a Generation Y phenomenon.

OP, paragraph 5: “The country, the story goes, must now live within its means, and its means will be defined by paying as little tax as possible. This interpretation of the economic crisis misrepresents the deficit as a burden caused by the welfare state, rather than by the collapse of the very economic models that are responsible for the collapse of the Attlee settlement under Thatcher, Blair and Gordon Brown.”

The first sentence denies that VAT will increase shortly and fails to note that low wage earners keep more of their income. Overall, government intends to extract more tax revenue in the next couple of years.

I am unable to parse the second sentence.

OP, paragraph 6: “Real generational activists refuse to be purchased to a programme of cuts. Real generational activists agitate for higher state spending and fairer distribution of the benefits our parents enjoyed, not for further spending cuts in order to somehow ‘rectify’ the demographic anomaly which allowed the baby boomers to enjoy relative security and social mobility.”

Sentence one: Denial of cuts is a legitimate argument. A bit daft given that the three big parties went to a general election all saying that they would reduce spending.

Sentence two: Do real generational activists also agitate for the disbenefits that their parents suffered? Do they want to share the milk and honey of mass unemployment?

Social mobility: If one person goes up, another must come down. I presume that you seek increased wealth, increased opportunity and a narrowing of class difference. The only time that an upper class family becomes middle class is when they run out of money.

OP, paragraph 7: “However, as the left remains silent about the plight of Generation Y, the argument for cutting spending has come to dominate the discourse of intergenerational politics.”

Again, the sentence does not make much sense but I’ll try to interpret it.

Young people and older people are more likely to be unemployed than people in their middle years. They are more likely to live in poor quality homes and in less desirable areas. Their concerns are intergenerational.

When Generation Y citizens meet up for a whine about nasty things that have affected them, ignoring that Generation X endure the same, the debate becomes intragenerational.

OP, paragraph 8: “From 1979 onwards, nearly all the benefits that the baby boomers enjoyed have been eroded one by one, but even as the Chancellor prepares to decimate state spending, the immediate needs of those born between 1945 and 1960- the voting block most likely to decide the outcome of elections – have been prioritised.”

Which specific benefit was removed in 1979? Or are you just suggesting that everything unpleasant happened post Thatcher, ignoring Callaghan/Healey cuts?

Decimation: reduction by one tenth. The Chancellor is suggesting more than that.

Prioritisation of the needs of those born between 1945 and 1960: the government has promised to protect spending on education and health. I haven’t spotted many wrinklies attending school near me (your mileage may vary) and the least time I checked the NHS provided a universal service.

If your argument boils down to the fact that you can’t afford to buy a house, get over it. The baby boomers are selling and mortgaging them to pay care home bills.

“T’he fairest policy would be to honestly attempt to give the children of baby boomers the same opportunities that the baby boomers themselves had. ”

sounds fair, doesn’t it? No or almost no legal abortion? Gaol for gays? Just 2 women’s colleges at Cambridge? Mortgages very hard to get even with a deposit?
Massive interest rates making those mortgages expensive? A far lower number of places at university? Massive exploitation of tenants (of the kind that still exists, disgracefully, for migrant workers here)? and so on and on…

I do not want people of student age to face that “equality” let alone what my parents knew in their youth. I do want people who speak for students now to show a little basic knowledge, to stop talkingnonsense about what the baby boomers had.

charlieman

“If your argument boils down to the fact that you can’t afford to buy a house, get over it. The baby boomers are selling and mortgaging them to pay care home bills.”

Yes and I will almost certainly have to do that soon. But I don’t object to it, though I am not rich. As a socialist, though, I want a care home system that cares for all older people, to which all people contribute.

OPs

Would I contribute to student ‘care’? I do. I pay taxes. I do that willingly. But as you said, this is about fairness and justice so the rich, of whatever age, should pay more.

Is that so difficult to understand?

@54 Kate Belgrave: That really is good writing – clear, concise and head and shoulders above anyone else in her age group.

It also satisfies my main criterion for really good writing — I feel I understand the world better after reading it.

@ 9 “Not really. Not if the current group of youngsters haven’t been given the same opportunity to work, earn, buy property, and contribute money to the state via taxation because they didn’t start with the same starting benefits as those have worked and earned.”

Oh come on. I’m a gen xer and none too fond of baby boomers myself, but if the current generation of risk averse neurotics are good for anything it’s moaning. They are not the first generation to leave education into a struggling economy. When I left full time education in the early 80s a lot of people, even graduates, were unemployed or doing menial jobs, until 15 years ago you actually had to be academically able to go to uni, now higher education is given to them on a plate. Most boomers didn’t leave home until they got married, todays gen go on gap years, and live in flats crammed with i phones and laptops with cars parked outside. Most of them have a standard of living that only a generation ago would be considered acheiveble only by the middle classes, and even then only by your 30s.
The problem is they all swallowed nu labours propaganda – get a degree, any degree and you’ll be spoilt for choice of “graduate” jobs because you are the best educated, most confident, articulate generation this copuntry has ever produced.

No they aren’t and when reality finally bites, they can’t handle it

63. Chaise Guevara

@62

Thanks for that, Matt. It’s always nice to know that some bigot who’s never met you is judging you over the internet. So you don’t like us young ‘uns, and you don’t like boomers… I guess the only decent, clever, sensible, down-to-earth people are those in Generation Matt, right?

Matt Munro – I reckon you’d appreciate this, by Don Peck in the Atlantic :

“Many of today’s young adults seem temperamentally unprepared for the circumstances in which they now find themselves. Jean Twenge, an associate professor of psychology at San Diego State University, has carefully compared the attitudes of today’s young adults to those of previous generations when they were the same age. Using national survey data, she’s found that to an unprecedented degree, people who graduated from high school in the 2000s dislike the idea of work for work’s sake, and expect jobs and career to be tailored to their interests and lifestyle. Yet they also have much higher material expectations than previous generations, and believe financial success is extremely important. “There’s this idea that, ‘Yeah, I don’t want to work, but I’m still going to get all the stuff I want,’” Twenge told me. “It’s a generation in which every kid has been told, ‘You can be anything you want. You’re special.’”

In her 2006 book, Generation Me, Twenge notes that self-esteem in children began rising sharply around 1980, and hasn’t stopped since. By 1999, according to one survey, 91 percent of teens described themselves as responsible, 74 percent as physically attractive, and 79 percent as very intelligent. (More than 40 percent of teens also expected that they would be earning $75,000 a year or more by age 30; the median salary made by a 30-year-old was $27,000 that year.) Twenge attributes the shift to broad changes in parenting styles and teaching methods, in response to the growing belief that children should always feel good about themselves, no matter what. As the years have passed, efforts to boost self-esteem—and to decouple it from performance—have become widespread.

These efforts have succeeded in making today’s youth more confident and individualistic. But that may not benefit them in adulthood, particularly in this economic environment. Twenge writes that “self-esteem without basis encourages laziness rather than hard work,” and that “the ability to persevere and keep going” is “a much better predictor of life outcomes than self-esteem.” She worries that many young people might be inclined to simply give up in this job market. “You’d think if people are more individualistic, they’d be more independent,” she told me. “But it’s not really true. There’s an element of entitlement—they expect people to figure things out for them.”

Ron Alsop, a former reporter for The Wall Street Journal and the author of The Trophy Kids Grow Up: How the Millennial Generation Is Shaking Up the Workplace, says a combination of entitlement and highly structured childhood has resulted in a lack of independence and entrepreneurialism in many 20-somethings. They’re used to checklists, he says, and “don’t excel at leadership or independent problem solving.” Alsop interviewed dozens of employers for his book, and concluded that unlike previous generations, Millennials, as a group, “need almost constant direction” in the workplace. “Many flounder without precise guidelines but thrive in structured situations that provide clearly defined rules.”

All of these characteristics are worrisome, given a harsh economic environment that requires perseverance, adaptability, humility, and entrepreneurialism. Perhaps most worrisome, though, is the fatalism and lack of agency that both Twenge and Alsop discern in today’s young adults. Trained throughout childhood to disconnect performance from reward, and told repeatedly that they are destined for great things, many are quick to place blame elsewhere when something goes wrong, and inclined to believe that bad situations will sort themselves out—or will be sorted out by parents or other helpers.”

On the nail with the entitlement idea, and based on my experience of graduates working in my organistion they expect *everything* on a plate, no effort on their part, they are owed a fulfilling career with a high salary and if they don’t get it, it’s not their fault – they are being “denied” what’s rightfully theirs.
It’s quite funny after about six months when they realise they won’t get to be MD within a year of starting work, most of them seem to have mini nervous breakdowns when the propaganda of a decade of new labour state education is finally replaced with reality.
To be fair most generations have had an exaggerated idea of their own worth and optimism has always been an (admirable) trait of youth.

“need almost constant direction” in the workplace. “Many flounder without precise guidelines but thrive in structured situations that provide clearly defined rules.”

Indeed – as do most 12 year olds. It’s a very long winded way of saying they have no ability or talent. They are glorified process monkeys

@ 63 – I was responding to post #9. Dont flatter yourself

68. Chaise Guevara

” I was responding to post #9. Dont flatter yourself”

Don’t flatter myself? You were slagging off a group of people. in a narrowminded and ignorant kind of way, that happens to include me. If I was Indian, and you went on some racist rant about Asians, I’d be entitled to be pissed off regardless of whether or not you were speaking directly to me.

But never mind. Everyone know it’s ok to be an arsehole on the internet.

“it is at least worth mentioning the fact that the baby boomers were growing up at a time when misogyny, homophobia and racism were absolutely endemic in a way that it absolutely inconceivable now.”

yes, don, but my problem with bringing race into this is that black people are still remarkably ill-treated by the educational system — and elsewhere — now. But of course you’re right.

Laban yes, I’ve read about that research and it rings true. But — to address matt’s “they have no ability or talent”, the point of the research, and other writing about this, is that the characteristics are a product of their upbringing, not of any inherent flaws in them.

The fact is, if you omit maternity and paediatrics, the NHS is a health service for the elderly. The age group that most uses the NHS is also the age group that is most likely to vote which is why the ideal way to attack this Conservative government is its plans to privatise the NHS. But first get rid of that useless puppy, Andy Burnham, he really does not have the skills to fight for the NHS.

71. Chaise Guevara

“Laban yes, I’ve read about that research and it rings true. But — to address matt’s “they have no ability or talent”, the point of the research, and other writing about this, is that the characteristics are a product of their upbringing, not of any inherent flaws in them.”

Is it worth addressing? It’s just a mindless insult. As to the whole ‘process monkeys’ thing, which at least has some substance to it, I think we also need to bear in mind that young people are going to be new, junior employees, and many of them will be new to full-time employment itself. It’s not surprising that they prefer to know that they’re doing things right. Also that we tend to judge people by old standards, which is problematic given how quickly technology changes life and the workplace. I’m reminded of the term sometimes used for Generation Z: “the silent generation”. The idea is that young people today are uncommunicative, which ignores the obvious facts that 1) teenagers often are, especially around adults, and 2) a lot of their communication now happens silently over Facebook and the like.

“Is it worth addressing? It’s just a mindless insult”

well yes, you’re right.

“so that we tend to judge people by old standards”

but a relative absence of observation and comment is not the answer. And Jean Twenge, who wrote the book Laban introduces here, is not that old, and is not simply concerned to attack “Generation Me”. Nor is the atlantic.com piece that quotes and discusses her and others’ work.

“, which is problematic given how quickly technology changes life and the workplace”

the key parts of the Generation Me work though really isn’t about this anyway but about an instilled entitlement and instilled unrealistic expectations, unrealistic even before the economic crash. To the extent that university expansion and its promises have been a con, they have not helped,of course.

73. Chaise Guevara

@72

Well, I assume we can lay this at the feet of entertainment such as reality TV, which mixes the idea that everyone is special (mainly by going on and on about the virtues of “being yourself”) and perpetuates the idea that it’s easy to become famous and successful, and that the former leads to the latter. There are plenty of people who used to be members of well-known bands that now work down the local supermarket, let alone reality TV stars.

Perhaps we’ve caught the American Dream?

@62 – “Most boomers didn’t leave home until they got married, todays gen go on gap years, and live in flats crammed with i phones and laptops with cars parked outside…”

What a load of wank. Maybe some of today’s “gen” have these things, but I certainly don’t – and nor do any of my friends.

(Nor am I pulling a “woe is me” stunt: I’m hardly the exception.)

What we really need is an appreciation that both generation *and* class are issues here: if you’re “somewhere outside the privileged elite” you’re going to have a bum time over the next decade or so, and if you’re unfortunate enough to be young *and* somewhere outside the privileged elite, you’re probably going to wish you were somewhere else for the next 20 or 30 years.

Of course, kids whose parents live in leafy Surrey and can afford the ludicrous university fees, can afford to fund a gap year (or two) for their two (or three) worthless offspring and are quite happy to pay the deposit on a flat – they’ll be all right.

It’s the other 95% who don’t have access to these things, who will work longer hours for (relatively) less pay, and – most likely – not have access to free health care and a state pension when they retire, who are the losers in all this.

Incidentally, a relevant story on the Beeb today:

“Nearly three quarters of people believe retirement as we currently understand it will not be possible in the future, a BBC Newsnight poll has suggested.

“More than three quarters (77%) thought younger people would get a worse deal.

“And more than half (54%) thought it was unfair that younger generations would be worse off than those currently approaching retirement age.

“Jeremy Black, professor of history at the University of Exeter, said younger people who were yet to retire were having to adjust to a dramatic change in fortunes.

“‘The relationship between the generations has been transformed. Whereas it used to be the case that up and coming generations tended to be more prosperous then their parents, now we’re going to be in reverse,’ he said.”

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/programmes/newsnight/8973814.stm

(But it’s okay, because this is just cheap identity politics and utterly irrelevant to anything. There’s no merit or truth in any claim of intergenerational unfairness; baby boomers are actually universally fabulous and anyone who suggests otherwise is clearly a whining arse.)

@ 75 – If you want an amusing but pithy attack on boomers (by one of their own) suggest reading “Balsamic Dreams”

@76 – [from 'Balsamic Dreams'] the baby boomers “were the first generation to sell out and then insist that they hadn’t.”

Just about sums it up, really. Thanks!


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
  1. Liberal Conspiracy

    Why is it easier to cut services for students than elderly? http://bit.ly/d1bw9X

  2. Jeevan Rai

    “When this generation was young it prioritised free higher education; now reaching retirement, it prioritises pensions” http://bit.ly/d1bw9X

  3. AdamRamsay

    RT @libcon: Why is it easier to cut services for students than elderly? http://bit.ly/d1bw9X – exactly!

  4. Ben Little

    Article with@lauriepenny on #cuts and intergenerational politics at liberal conspiracy http://j.mp/bGNwH7 yup whiney teenager that's me!

  5. George Roberts

    "as left remains silent about plight of Gen Y, argument for cutting has come to dominate intergenerational politics" http://bit.ly/d1xGt0

  6. Chris Keegan

    The tories are ushering in another era of conflict – full spectrum, and inter-generational. God help us. http://ow.ly/2zP3D ^CK

  7. Jilted Generation

    Shout out to Laurie Penny on a great posting on Liberal conspiracy. http://fb.me/u71ECbUZ

  8. Icon Books » Blog Archive » Ed Howker on Newsnight

    [...] ‘Simply slashing the state, however, will not solve the problems of what Shiv Malik and Ed Howker call the ‘jilted generation’.’ Read more here. [...]

  9. Peter Wong

    RT @libcon: Why is it easier to cut services for students than elderly? http://bit.ly/d1bw9X





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