The popular notion that baby boomers are wealth hoarders who have gained at the long-term expense of the young is unfair and unjustified, according to an academic.
Dr Beverley Searle, from the University of Dundee, said the current trend for the inter-generational conflict, which usually pitches retirement-age baby boomers against so-called millennialls, who are typically in their twenties and thirties, as a “smokescreen” that obscured greater social inequality and poor decisions by politicians.
However, she added there was now a “moral division” over whether people should collect free services, such as social care and prescriptions, when they could afford to pay for them.
Dr Searle said that baby boomers, those born between 1945 and 1964, had benefitted from the inception of the welfare state, better housing opportunities, healthcare and lower taxes.
However, she added it was policy that had driven the benefits that were now costing those still in work.
She said: “Baby boomers get blamed for the benefits they have enjoyed, such as better housing opportunities and access to universities, but it was the politicians who took the decisions on how the policies would be funded.
“The debate around inter-generational conflict is just a political smokescreen.
“It is diverting away from the politicians that have created these problems and it is unfair and unjustified that baby boomers get the blame.
“Governments have known about the baby boomers from the 1940s onwards. It is not like they are a surprise.
“These arguments about the inter-generational conflict are just trying to divert attention away from policy decisions which have been made over the years.”
Dr Searle said that the value of housing had become a key focus of the debate.
Dr Searle said: “Politicians want house values to increase so that people can use the equity, possibly to fund their care in later life.
“The problem is, it is the people behind them, the young, who are suffering because house prices are so high.
“There is an assumption that older people are hoarding all the housing wealth but this is not the reality.
“A quarter of housing wealth is held by those between the ages of 35 to 64-years-old who are also in the top 20 per cent of households in terms of incomes.
“This idea that baby boomers are being greedy and hanging on to their housing wealth doesn’t pan out in reality .
“There are, of course, a lot of older people who have considerable amounts of money in their properties but it really depends on where you bought your house and when you bought your house.”
Dr Searle added that inequality lay “within generations” and not “between generations.”
The academic, who is head of geography and environmental sciences at the university, recently led a three-year study into the transfer of family wealth across generations.
Dr Searle suggested more funding could have bene made available for health and social care if taxes and national insurance paid in to the system by the Baby Boomer generation had been reserved.
“The government choose not to do this, the government wanted instead to reduce taxes,” she said.
She added: “I think the biggest challenge we have now is the moral divide it has now created.
“We have to decide if we are comfortable going into retirement and having access to free things when we could pay for them. Are we jeopardising what is happening to the people behind us, the younger generation?”
The study, funded by the Leverhulme Trust, interviewed more than 250 people.
Dr Searle said, generally speaking, the younger generation felt they had more opportunities given the weakening of gender roles and technological advancements.
However, most agreed they faced struggles in housing and jobs.