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Bridging the generational divide: 5 things we learnt from a year of exploring fairness between generations

Throughout 2017, the IFoA has released three bulletins looking at equality between generations across three public policy debates: climate change, retirement, and health and care. Alongside IFoA members, these bulletins feature articles from politicians, charities, think tanks and other influential individuals and bodies.

The panel at the launch of the Intergenerational Fairness bulletin
The panel at the launch of the
Intergenerational Fairness Bulletin

Here are five things we learnt while compiling the series:

1) Intergenerational fairness is an issue

This might sound obvious – why would we start a project on intergenerational fairness if we didn’t know it was an issue? But compiling the series has helped to highlight the number and diverse range of influencers and decision-makers who recognise and are grappling with the policy problems associated with achieving a fair contract between generations. Our bulletins have showcased 30 different voices, each with a clear message that intergenerational fairness is important and that it must be a priority for policymakers.

2) The issues are far-reaching

Our bulletins focussed in on three key areas where it was clear that actuaries could add to the debate: climate change, retirement, and health and care. Within each of these themes we’ve seen that there are a wealth of different policy problems that cut to the core of the intergenerational debate. Throughout this year, any of us who have been reading the news and keeping up with current affairs will have noticed that there are so many other areas of public policy where we see this debate replicated, from technological advancement, to infrastructure investment, student loans, universal credit and housing. Many of these debates played out during campaigning for the 2017 General Election and remain high on political agendas across all parties and political persuasions.

Intergenerational Fairness Bulletin, Health and care image   Intergenerational Fairness Bulletin, Retirement image   Intergenerational Fairness Bulletin, Climate change

3) We mustn’t overlook other aspects of fairness

One of the key counterarguments that appeared time and time again throughout the three bulletins is that a focus on restoring fairness between the generations risks us losing sight of the many other inequalities that exist within society. There will always be young people for whom cries of, ‘you’ve never had it so good,’ will never ring true, and there are certainly many individuals in mid-later life who would not recognise themselves as part of a gold-plated Baby Boomer generation. It will be important to keep the various inequalities that exist within particular generations in mind when looking at how to restore the intergenerational contract. In other words, we can’t lose sign of intragenerational issues in the quest for intergenerational fairness.

4) We can’t start a generational war

We were clear throughout the series that any framing of these issues as a ‘war between generations’ would be counterproductive. We showcased views from across a broad political spectrum with a range of views, from those who feel that public policy is seriously disadvantaging younger generations, to those whose main reason for contributing was to give a voice to older people left behind by certain policies. Indeed there are areas where the traditional framing of the intergenerational fairness question (“How the Baby Boomers Took Their Children's Future - And Why They Should Give It Back”) has been turned on its head within this series. When we think about policy solutions, it is important that one generation does not take the burden for propping up any other. The best solutions will be those that spread responsibility as equally as possible across all generations, current and future in a way that ensures no one generation is left with a burden that is too much to bear.

5) There are answers

One of the most important (and most heartening) conclusions we’ve taken from this work is that all the issues we’ve discussed are not unresolvable. There are clearly steps that can be taken to help reduce intergenerational inequality and restore the contract between the generations. But restoring the balance will require action. There is a clear role for governments, regulators, the financial industry and actuaries, to help create policies that can reset the balance between young and old, Baby Boomer and Millennial, and build a bright future for all generations alive today and for the future.

Visit the intergenerational fairness series to read all of the articles.