Kenny MacAskill: Why baby boomers owe a debt to millennials

My generation did get satisfaction and now we owe millennials the same, writes Kenny MacAskill.

Tackling inequality within our society and between the hemispheres is rightly supported by many.

But, just as important is inequality between the generations, which was recently raised by the Resolution Foundation. Now I rarely find myself agreeing with Tory Peers but on this occasion, I am fully behind Lord Willetts and even cheering him on. He’s a clever man – dubbed “two brains” when a Government Minister – but he’s also showing that he’s a just man.

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Much of the reporting and a great deal of the factual information portrayed this as a battle between millennials and baby boomers. Nothing’s ever straightforward and many baby boomers are far from wealthy, just as there are some high-rolling millennials but there’s still a clear generational divide. Statistics produced by the organisation clearly showed that and it’s this wider disparity which needs addressed.

Daughterly delight as mum helps out financially

For Lord Willetts that means a change in taxation, with the older generation bearing more of the burden and the younger generation contributing less. Now he’s normally been a man more associated with calls for reduction rather than increases in tax, and for that reason alone he should be listened to, but again he’s right.

Taxes on inheritance from those who have benefited need to be increased and the burden on those working to look after us in our dotage needs lessened. It won’t be simple and will have to be general rather than specific, as it’s dealing with huge cross-sections of society, but it must be done.

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It’s only fair and I say that as a classic baby boomer, born in the late 50s and a child in the 60s when things seemed as if they could only get better. And for most of my generation they did. Our wealth and lifestyle have been significantly better than that enjoyed by our parents or grandparents. Their sacrifices in wartime and in peacetime were my generation’s gains.

Daughterly delight as mum helps out financially

Yet, our legacy to our children is to see them become the first generation for a long time to be poorer than their parents – and not just financially but even in lifespan. They have reaped what we have sown and so it’s time to pay back while we still can. Otherwise they’ll curse us when we’re dead and gone for what we took and how little we left; and that won’t just be in the natural environment they’ll inherit from us. It isn’t just the factual information provided by the think tank that persuades me but anecdotal evidence from youngsters today, contrasted with my own younger days. The graphs and charts are stark and confirm the transfer of wealth between the generations but the anecdotal evidence is even more poignant.

A radio news programme interviewed youngsters who were losing pay after their work closed due to the snow. I was ashamed to hear their plight, particularly because their hourly rate – with the minimum wage not applying to under 25s – was less than many people of my age pay their dog walkers. Of course, older people also lost out, but the bulk of the workforce was young and for many that’s the sort of employment that they’re left with for the rest of their lives, if they can even get it. For the lowest paid people, lost wages have a huge effect on the ability to pay rent and eviction could potentially follow.

That got me thinking of my early life and what it was like for most, though not all, of my generation. When I left school, I went on to university along with many friends and it was without tuition fees and with a grant. That’s a debate that’s often had so I won’t labour it except to say it isn’t fair, even if many more now go. For those who didn’t go on to university or further education apprenticeships, jobs were plentiful. Skilled work was available and though early wages could be low, they soon increased. Minimum wages and other protections applied, zero-hours contracts were unheard of.

Now even post-graduates are facing life as a barista or whatever other gig they can pick up. Housing’s likewise. I recall when working but still living with parents I applied for a council tenancy which was offered some months later. As it was, I was moving into the city and so declined but no such opportunities are available to youngsters now. The purchase of council houses at discounted rates has seen them turned into private rentals.

The older generation that got the discount now receive the rentals, whilst the younger generation has to pay, probably for the rest of their lives, yet are excluded from obtaining a council tenancy. Private rental was also available in the past, but it was significantly less costly than now and with greater protections.

Only a few years after I declined the council flat, I bought my own flat. It was easily done with loans readily available and prices being reasonable. Now there’s a generation locked out of home ownership either entirely through cost or often unless their parents can fund the substantial deposit.

The nationalised industries my parents’ generation provided saw my generation take the dividends offered on privatisation, leaving future costs to be met by the next generation. Even a bus pass will soon be on offer to me, yet the youngster seeking work has to pay. The plight of youngsters has come about through the decisions of an older generation. Some factors such as industrial decline were inevitable but the reduction in taxation to increase personal consumption most certainly wasn’t. Rather than invest in our children’s futures as our parents did, we took it for ourselves.

“My generation” as The Who sang when I was young have taken far more than their fair share and it’s time to pay back and for youngsters to benefit. The divide isn’t just fuelling inequality between the generations but within them. Those with rich parents will be ever richer than those without, thus passing it on down through subsequent generations, so it needs addressed now. We baby boomers owe it to the millennials.