Intergenerational fairness - a citizens' view

A report with Britain Thinks

Intergenerational Fairness is one of the issues of the moment.  There's a prevailing narrative that babyboomers have benefitted from free education, generous pensions and the housing boom, while millennials have little hope of getting on the housing ladder, let alone saving for retirement.  Are things as simple as that and what do people really think?  

We brought together a Citizens' Jury to explore the issues indepth, and see if the tax system can play a role in addressing intergenerational challenges.

The debate - Does intergenerational equality exist?

Two of our people discuss

I’m more concerned about other changes faced by society, which we’re struggling to adapt to.

Research suggests Millennials are worse off than our parents due to a number of things, including housing shortages, the devaluing of a university education, and because we’ll probably be retiring in our 70s.

These concerns shaped my decision about not going to university, and I have since joined PwC as a higher apprentice. In other words, I adapted to some of the growing disadvantages faced by my generation (tuition fees for one) and chose a different path. The opportunity to improve my situation was there, it just meant taking a different approach.

But I count myself as one of the lucky few, who has been able to start earning and learning at an early age, with no tuition fees. For some of my friends, the prospect of starting out in life with more than £50,000 in debt is terrifying – a concern which simply didn’t exist in my parents’ youth.

The government’s help-to-buy scheme and a growing number of apprenticeships have only a limited effect. Living on an apprenticeship salary makes it hard to save for your own house, even with help-to-buy. Unless you still live with your parents, you’re faced with steep rental costs, and the prospect of saving for a deposit in an increasingly competitive housing market.

However, buying a house is not my main concern for my generation. Instead I’m more concerned about other changes faced by society, which we’re struggling to adapt to.

Advances in technology, such as social media, are coming so thick and fast that we’re struggling to adopt healthy relationships with some of the new and exciting applications available, simply because we don’t know what a ‘healthy relationship’ is.

Millennials are wrestling with the pressures of being brought up in a culture of ‘showing off’, and I’ve known of peers growing up suffering from various eating disorders, depression, and anxiety as a result.

If our generation doesn’t learn how to have a healthier attitude to technology, I worry that some may become increasingly disconnected with society, and the impact on mental health could worsen. This, married to huge financial worries, leaves Millennials in a much worse off position than those generations who came before us.

We also have to look to our families and communities as our safety net and not rely on the state or employers for too much, as this won't be a sustainable approach.

I fall into Generation X, those people born between 1965 and 1984. Our experiences are meant to fall somewhere between the Baby Boomers who came before us and the Millennials (or Gen Y) who followed.

I’d say my experience of life so far fits that description. A mix of hard work and circumstance has left me in a position where I work for PwC and am a London homeowner at the age of 40.

There were no tuition fees when I went to university, and I didn’t contemplate saving conscientiously until after I joined PwC at 27. I’d been fortunate to take a gap year and study abroad mostly funded by scholarships and part-time jobs. I began saving 15% of my salary towards a pension once I worked for the firm in New York aged 30.

It took me until I was 38 to save up a big enough deposit to buy in the capital, with some help from my parents.

You might say I’ve been fortunate up to this point: free education, living abroad, a helping hand onto the property ladder. But there are things I have to be concerned about for the future, such as pensions, ill health, and caring for my mum in her old age and a sense that life hasn't quite gone to plan.

I’ve not directly benefited from the financial perks that Baby Boomers secured for themselves, though indirectly they’ve helped fund some of the big things in my life. I’m not unaware of that.

And things are getting harder for Millennials to aspire to the lives that generations before them have had. But no matter where you are on life’s spectrum, there are always people better and worse off than you.

So for me, intergenerational differences do exist, but broader inequalities between social groups concern me more. I think we have to stay engaged in civic society by voting and participating in building local communities to tackle these issues long term and helping those less fortunate than ourselves.

We also have to look to our families and communities as our safety net and not rely on the state or employers for too much, as this won't be a sustainable approach.

Contact us

Laetitia Lynn

Head of tax communication strategy, PwC United Kingdom

Tel: +44 (0)20 7212 3761

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