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Are you worse off than your parents’ generation?

by on October 21, 2014

Are you worse off than your parents’ generation? This was the question posed by the BBC Radio 4 programme, Call You and Yours, today.

The starting point for the discussion seemed to be that today’s younger people are worse off than their parents and that this will be a long term lifetime condition. The invitation to participate seemed to be addressed to younger people and only to older people in their capacity as parents – i.e. did they think that their children were worse off than them (as opposed to their own reflections on their position relative to their parents). The question was refined further during the course of the programme to refer expressly to the ‘younger generation’ and to ‘today’s 30 somethings’. Interestingly, one person in his 60s sent a message to the programme to say that his mother in her 90s had always been better off than him!

In addition to callers from the general public, there were invited contributors from two speakers. One was Alan Milburn,the government’s social mobility tsar. He called for a ten year transition to the introduction of a living wage for all, accepting that there are employers who cannot afford to pay this at the moment. He also referenced the rise of the working poor.

The other was Matt Whittaker of the Resolution Foundation who raised the issue of the disappearance of mid range skilled jobs leading to a growing gulf between those in low and high paid jobs. He pointed out that every generation has its own challenges and asked whether a younger generation has had to swap gadgets and travel in place of buying houses and saving for pensions and other things traditionally associated with security.

Most callers expressed the view that younger people are worse off than their parents though a few took the opposite position.

Amongst those who thought the younger generation were worse off, the main themes seemed to be:

  • low pay jobs which disadvantage young adults
  • a housing crisis (through some very large earners and buy to let putting up prices) lack of affordable housing
  • Global competition for jobs and housing
  • lack of choice of jobs outside London
  • low interest rates making it difficult to save for a deposit
  • the trend towards working for free at the start of career
  • Blase attitude of employers who view young people as a disposable commodity
  • Having to pay for higher education
  • The end of the job for life.

Whilst there were stories of help being given between generations of family such as with deposits, moral support and provision of living accommodation there was a sense that generations living together was different and difficult.

The programme asked whether things were different rather than worse. Such differences might be the trend towards having children later, the idea that we deserve ‘fulfilling’ work, the notion of ‘climbing the property ladder’ rather than staying put in a family home.

One call from someone who self-identified as a baby boomer who took a minority view that her children were far better off than her. She said she had never had the chance to save with very limited disposable income. Instead she had given her life to raising her children and now has to wait longer to receive her pension. This caller challenged the idea of generational homogeneity, rejecting the underlying assumption that all people in her generation had it easy. Of course, we agree that this is such a weakness in the notion of generations, that used in this way they can flatten all other potential dimensions of difference such as class and gender.

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