There appears to be a great phantom generational conflict being cooked up in the media at the moment. First we had the BBC, then the Observer, and now the front cover of the New Statesman. Writing in the Statesman Faisal Islam would have us believe a "great generational robbery" is taking place because the baby boomers enjoyed student grants, free dental care and relatively cheaper property prices when they were younger. Whereas younger people today face student loans, "high" taxation and price barriers to entering the housing market.
Not only did boomers have it better when they were young Faisal Islam actually blames them for the problems faced by younger people today "perhaps we are seeing the scary sight of a generation that has been rather brutal in getting its own way squeezing everything it can out of its own children".
This article is so full of false correlations and alarming leaps of imagination, and being that I am not intending to write a full journal article here, it's hard to know where to start.
Let's take one false correlation to begin with - tuition fees. So called "selfish" boomers didn't vote for tuition fees, very sadly they were introduced by our Labour government, despite pledging not to introduce fees in the 2001 election manifesto. So actually nobody voted for a political platform to introduce fees. It's also hard to see how university funding has become an issue of population ageing. Tuition fees and university funding is an issue that can be solved equitably - demographic change doesn't narrow any options.
Although many young people, unfairly in my book, will have to rack up large debts to get through university, many students are supported by their families in a number of material ways. Indeed, many boomer parents have taken to action such as re-mortgaging in order to support their children's education, and of course, this a transfer of wealth that flows from older generations to younger ones. But, there is absolutely no recognition in articles that attempt to set up some kind of bogus generational conflict of transfers of wealth and other support from older generations to the young, through both the family, the wider community and through the nation state.
One of Faisal Islam's examples of robbery is almost laughable. That of young "Sam" who is 22 years old and, get this, has to pay rent to a landlord who is older than him. Apparently this is "a new form of wealth exchange" - can someone please tell me when it was that twenty-somethings used
to have landlords who were younger than themselves?
It is beyond doubt that first time house buyers face huge barriers - it's a problem, but how is it the fault of the boomers and how does this justify a political programme of punitive generational revenge? That the article makes no mention of other factors in the housing market, such as the decline in new housebuilding is telling. And what happens to all the property wealth accumulated by the boomers when they die? Does it disappear in a puff of smoke. No it gets transferred to younger generations within families. It has recently been estimated that the baby boomers will play an important part in the largest ever recorded inter-generational transfer of housing wealth. Housing assets bequeathed could go up from £14bn in 2002-03 to £32bn, in current monetary values, by 2019-20. Housing would account for 60% of all assets left in wills by 2019-20.
None of the writers who seek to support the political narrative of generational conflict make any mention of volunteering - doesn't fit with the "selfish" boomer does it? Yet 30% of people aged 50-74 take part in formal volunteer work. Currently the unpaid work of older people in Britain is equivalent to 2.9% of economic output. This trend is likely to continue as the boomers retire, indeed it is possible as people stay healthier longer this contribution will increase.
The proponents of apocalyptic demography and inter-generational conflict too readily use misleading homogeneous stereotypes of baby boomers. All selfish, wealthy and eager to kick away the stool from their own children. No mention is ever made of the generation of men and women excluded from the labour market through age discrimination in employment. Well over a quarter of men and a third of women aged 50-64 - baby boomers the lot of them - are not in employment. Furthermore, older people who are unemployed are much more likely to be long-term unemployed with 32.8% of the unemployed aged 50 to state pension age have been unemployed for a year or more.
There are solutions to increasing incomes in later life. These include increased labour market participation, continued economic growth and rises in productivity that taken together will support a great proportion of the required increases in state spending on ageing issues. Population ageing is not a huge "problem" in itself, but it will become one if it used as the fig leaf for dismantling progressive welfare and pensions systems.
There is only one absolute truth when it comes to debating the policy implications of population ageing - commentators and vested interests will manipulate that debate to suit their ideological obsessions. Especially those on the right who see it as an opportunity to move public opinion into supporting massive cuts in social spending.
The article could be challenged in so many other ways, but that's plenty for now.