Alan Milburn’s warning about a “permanently divided” Britain along generational lines (Report, 3 March) will need to be heeded by those who have a voice that will be heard: the baby boomers and the over-50s. Those of us among the generation of 1960s protesters who sympathise with the plight of Generation Y must speak out. After all, they are our children or our children’s children. This would not be a patronising stance but the realisation that we are the generation that all governments listen to and fear the most at election time.
The absence of the voice of protest by the young against their situation is not due to apathy but to the extreme difficulty of collective protest when saddled with an average graduate student debt of over £30,000, working on a zero-hours contract or internship and without the prospect of raising the deposit to buy their own house. For those of us who can afford to think less selfishly about our automatic entitlement to a freedom pass, winter fuel payment, free TV licence and other concessions, now is the time to remember how we once protested for change and progress. The young will always be with us and today they need our support.
• Any student of history can research familiar figures (embodied in fiction like Dick Whittington) who made fortunes, and just as many who lost them and did not attain a better standard of living than their parents. It is worth pointing out that the sense of entitlement to a better standard of living for each generation is one based on the ideas and achievements of the post-war consensus in which many of us grew up.
Strong unions assured decent pay and job security. The state provided access to free university tuition and cost of living grants, the expanded public sector provided access to healthcare, transport and local welfare and provided a route for the offspring of the working class to enter middle-class occupations.
In addition, a progressive taxation system ensured a better distribution of wealth. There was also a sense of respect for public service and a feel for the collective good of society, which transcended the predominant individualism of today. It would be sensible to analyse the current crisis in these terms rather than trying to encourage a blame and envy culture between generations.
• Your article and editorial (A deepening age divide, and the growing pains of Generation Y, 12 March), though timely and welcome, address a problem that doesn’t only affect Generation Y. There are many of us in Generation X, the forgotten generation, who are similarly affected. Thanks to stagnated wages over the years, and if we’re not lucky enough to have parents who can afford to give us a leg up, we’re in exactly the same boat. But any token efforts to solve the housing crisis like Help to Buy are usually limited to the under-40s, and even if a miracle happens and we save a large enough deposit to buy at the rapidly growing property prices, how many banks will approve a mortgage for a first-time buyer in their 40s?
More needs to be done to help the have nots, reduce inequality and improve social mobility, no matter what their generation.
• A report on the “absurdly high” pay for UK bosses (5 March) is followed the next week by “UK faces permanent generational divide”. We read that inter-generational inequality is to bring social corrosion and an existential crisis. By focusing on the generations rather than the vastly inflated remuneration of the CEOs whose income is 100 times that of their average employees is to miss the point.
Changes to tuition fees, job insecurity, pensions in free fall, benefit cuts, property prices and the lack of affordable housing are all due to Conservative government policy. Please do not lose sight of who the real culprits are.
• The generation gap is, of course, just one example of the way in which our politicians, elected by a minority, exploit differences in society to sustain their own political careers. Age, class, education, occupation, locality, health, wealth, nationality, ethnicity, ability, attractiveness, usefulness, gullibility, political ideology, personal insecurities and financial circumstances are all used to justify exclusion from mainstream society. Some observable problems (eg homelessness) are usually caused by a multiple of exclusions. Others (eg Brexit), politicians create themselves.
• Alan Milburn makes important points about increasing generational inequalities. What he fails to explain is how being a “tsar” within the framework of a government that contains the likes of Iain Duncan Smith is helping to address the issues.
• At the core of the housing issue for Generation Y is the ideological preoccupation with ownership, a toxic myth reflecting uberclass expectations.
Predictably, the present government is infected with this. It describes £250,000 new-builds with mortgage support as affordable first-time buyer properties. This is at best disingenuous, at worst dishonest. The maths is simple: 20% mortgage guarantee reduces the cost to £200,000, requiring a deposit of £20,000 and a mortgage of £180,000, which in turn requires a household income of £60,000. According to government statistics, only 16% of households have such an income, and it is reasonable to assume that the majority of them already own. So, essentially, there are no first-time buyers who can afford these houses.
The basic need in early adult years is secure, affordable tenure, in other words rented accommodation. There are many ways of providing this. A credible start could be made by the repossession of improperly acquired ex-council houses from right-to-buy tenants by buy-to-let landlords.
There is another solution. The bedsit. Across the land there are many, many thousands of older couples and singles struggling to retain and maintain houses that are too big for them; those same older people are often isolated and lonely. The bedsit option solves their material and social needs, while meeting the financial and residential needs of the young. Far from being a novelty, this is how most of us crumblies started our adult lives.
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