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Politics, age and the ‘next generation’

by on March 17, 2016

Regular readers of this blog will know that we enjoy challenging essentialist understandings of ‘generations’.  So we couldn’t let George Osborne get away with using the term ‘next generation’ 18 times in yesterday’s budget speech without passing some comment. His starting point was to position the budget as the choice of the long term: ‘We choose to put the next generation first.‘ Quite who might be the ‘next generation’ isn’t of course entirely clear, nor therfore is it clear who is being put behind this ‘next generation’. So we’ve looked at a number of opinion pieces in the British media to see how this is being interpreted.

The Guardian examines whether the budget offers anything to Gen Y, that paper’s intepretation of ‘next generation’, although individual measures such as the lifetime ISA are described as targeting a ‘left-behind generation of the under-40s‘ which is rather broader.  Meanwhile The Independent dismisses ‘talk of investing for the next generation [a]s just hot air‘ against the background of lower productivity growth. The Mirror – in an ironic piece – chooses to interpret the phrase as entirely self-referential ‘We note too the claim to “put the next generation first” refers to the future Tory leader and you intend to limit the applicants to Chancellors called George Osborne. Good luck with that.’ The Daily Mail also pinpoints the new lifetime ISA as the only noteworthy contribution to the ‘next generation’, describing this as a measure that means ‘young workers will no longer have to choose between saving for a home or retirement‘.

Osborne only mentioned pensioners once, so perhaps it is them who are being put behind the ‘next generation’. The Daily Mail highlights pensions as the biggest gap, noting that ‘radical changes had been trailed which would have abolished many pension tax reliefs in favour of creating ‘pension ISAs’ that would have been tax free on retirement‘. And it’s worth noting that this week also saw the announcement that MPs are recommending that women given insufficient warning that their pension age was being increased from 60 to 66 by 2020 should be allowed early access to their state pension in return for accepting lower weekly payments.

Overall, I think we can say that the references to the ‘next generation’ were something of a rhetorical flourish that don’t bear up to scrutiny in terms of clarity of definition.

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