There is a supposed war between the generations in our country. What is good for old people is bad for young people and vice versa. It is in all the newspapers; they say it was a big factor in the outcome of the recent general election.
The battle lines in this unfortunate conflict of interests are drawn according to the following apparent truisms.
Old people are a burden to the rest of society as they are supported with pensions that are too generous and, on top of that, are likely to need a fortune spent on their care as they age. The people paying for this support are the young; a demographic that will never themselves benefit from such inter-generational generosity.
But just how true is this?
The state pension in the UK today is certainly worth more than it has been for many decades now. But it is hardly what anyone would describe as a generous amount to live on. Indeed, according to the OECD, the UK has one of the lowest average “replacement rate” retirement incomes in the developed world.
We have tricked ourselves into believing our old age pension is an entitlement provided through the system of National Insurance, when in reality that system is run on a pay-as-you-go basis instead. The pensions being paid today are paid for by those working today.
But that has almost always been the case with our so-called NI system. What we and our employers pay in NI contributions is nowhere near enough to provide even the relatively low pensions we expect to become entitled to later in life.
I am not sure it is true, either, that young people begrudge the fact support is provided by the state for our senior citizens. While it may suit newspapers to say so and provide politicians seeking election with a simple narrative to beguile us with, there seems to be no basis to the claim that generations within our society are at war with each other. Quite the opposite, in fact.
I would imagine the younger family members of 1950s-born parents let down by the hurried changes to the state pension age are as concerned about their parents’ financial predicament as their parents are themselves. Many young people attended the recent Waspi demonstration outside parliament in support of their mothers and fathers.
Many in the Waspi generation are already selflessly providing care for their elderly parents; care they themselves may receive from their own children one day.
And I am certain many parents are doing all they can to help their children with property purchases, childcare costs and day-to-day budgeting, as they struggle to establish themselves and their own young families in our difficult modern times.
It is easy to find plenty of evidence of intergenerational support in families up and down the land, rather than the conflict we constantly hear about via the media and the mouths of politicians. The great pity for all of us is that such natural familial concern is not made more widespread and inclusive by being properly reflected in our social legislation.
Steve Bee is director at Jargonfree Benefits