Whose bright idea was it to pitch generations against each other?

Whose bright idea was it to pitch generations against each other?

It may not be your idea of a fun Sunday but today I have read the 114 page House of Lords report on Tackling Intergenerational Unfairness.

Judging by the UK newspaper headlines this week you could conclude that the House of Lords really had it in for old people: Janet Street-Porter in the Independent states that “the Lords report seeks to exacerbate the problem by stressing their differences and demonising pensioners for not dropping dead sooner.” The headline chooses Better off dead? The House of Lords seems to think the old are just an inconvenience to the young.

And the idea that generations are at war is carried through with headlines such as

‘EARN IT!’ Pensioner FURY over demand THEIR cash should benefit youth –

Which goes on to inform us that “PENSIONERS would be unwilling to give up their hard-earned benefits to help the young”, information garnered from the exclusive Express.co.uk poll of 13,855 people conducted online. Helpfully the Express share their respondents’ feelings

“The young should get off their fat backsides and try some hard graft.”

 “The young are lazy, selfish, entitled and a waste of space. They should give up their video games to help old people.”

Dr Anna Dixon, chief executive of the Centre for Ageing Better, issued a statement to counterbalance this narrative. However, I found when she was cited her views were tagged on to the end of articles, she wasn’t grabbing the headlines with…

“Many young people are struggling on low wages at the same time as pensioner poverty is increasing for the first time in a decade. This is not about old versus young; it’s about creating a society where everyone regardless of income or background can enjoy every stage of life. Headline-grabbing proposals like abolishing free TV licences based on age risk distracting from the big structural changes needed across housing, work and communities.”

When I looked more closely at what the Lords report was actually saying and found much to be positive about it, not least the idea that in most communities’ intergenerational hostility is a myth.

 “The good news from our inquiry is that a strong and positive relationship does exist between generations even though there are serious concerns about fairness in public policy. We found in our research little public support for the idea that older people are to blame for the woes of younger generations or that one generation has wilfully robbed another. Such language is unhelpful.”

Whilst the taxation aspect of the report did offer ideas for counterbalancing financial inequality it was hardly suggesting robbing from one generation – the old- to give to another – the young. In fact, I felt the policy proposals were measured and fair, overall the committee struck me as being very supportive of the need for society to create assistance for all those in need equally regardless of age.

I was especially struck with the sections dealing with how communities are tackling inequality:  “Thriving and attractive public space, a shared sense of place and physical daily contact will always remain a basis for healthy communities and positive contact across the generations. Community activity can help bring generations together to strengthen the bonds between groups and tackle loneliness.”

A notable recurring theme was that intergenerational contact is instrumental in dispelling the stereotypes that exist across the ages, but that such intergenerational contact was dwindling. One area I hadn’t considered was how the decimation of our high streets was causing generational retail-splitting, with young and old people’s shopping habits aggravating the disconnection between the generations. (When did you last go shopping with your mother and your children in the same store?) And another was how pubs don’t contain the cross-section of age that they once were party to. (Many of my friends can’t stand the loud music in pubs or want sky sports in the background.)

Middle age participants in the research were of the view that there wasn’t as much intergenerational contact as when they were younger. The transience of neighbourhoods – no one is able to remain in an area for long – and lack of opportunities for contact in the immediate vicinity of the neighbourhood has diminished all relationships, leading to greater isolation between young and old as well as individual loneliness. “The increased atomisation of our society also poses a threat to intergenerational fairness. The breakdown of common institutions has allowed loneliness to proliferate in both young and old people as well as creating a breeding ground for ill-informed stereotypes about other generations.”

Not all the older participants stigmatised the young: there was a recognition that younger people do face new problems, especially “the inability to ‘move on’ and ‘get started’ with their lives due to poor housing and lack of opportunity.” The rise in the private rental sector has impacted on both young and old contributing to a decrease in high-quality intergenerational contact. “Where people cannot settle in a stable, long-term home, they are less able to forge meaningful connections.”

Many young people grasped the ‘‘lump of labour fallacy’: the idea “that there is no fixed number of jobs and that older people working longer did not reduce the number of jobs for young people.”

And although younger generations are not seeing the increase in living standards enjoyed by previous generations they realise this isn’t due to one simple factor.  At the same time, older generations face a society that is not prepared for their numbers or their needs as they age. Many young people, their parents and their grandparents worry about younger people being able to afford a home and achieve a secure well-paying job. “This is not due to older generations deliberately or selfishly profiting at their expense but is instead a result of the failure of successive governments to plan for the future and prepare for social, economic and technological change.”

Overall the report felt that false stereotyping of young people in the media and wider society has a negative effect on both the self-esteem and employment opportunities of all age groups. This, alongside the negative stereotyping of old age, was increasing social inequality.  Even with all of the unhelpful outside interest intent on creating division –  attempting to set up a generational war- families and communities sensed the importance of working across the generational divide and continued to holistically support each other.

A few weeks ago I attended a ThinkIn at Tortoise media on Snowflakes and Gammons: what the generations get wrong about each other. It was actually quite depressing as I was struck by my blinkered vision (too positive, overly optimistic and naive) of how some Millennials and Baby Boomers felt about each other. My experience of intergenerational views was more aligned to those expressed in the House of Lords report than the group mixed of ages at the event; many in the room expressed stereotypical views of age which highlighted difference and misunderstandings: the old are selfish and greedy, the young idealistic and too sensitive. I didn’t expect the readers of Tortoise to have much in common with those Express readers mentioned above but I guess I need to get out more. My view of intergenerational relationships is clearly skewed by the amount of time I spend with others who have similar views to my own. My own friendship group spans across 20 to 80 plus year-olds; those voices most active in the anti-ageism camp may well be in their 50s and 60s, but there are also others who are much younger and older, who come together both online and in-real-life to share ways to challenge ageism.

I don’t believe that old is better than young, or judging across age groups helps anyone. At GOLDIE magazine we aren’t setting up a platform where conversations are limited to the over forties discussing how it is to be that age, but more an environment where ageing can be discussed from all angles and by all ages. We may be showing how to flourish over 40 but we are not doing so at the expense of those younger; we hope to encourage all ages to embrace aspirational ageing.

A glossy magazine may not be an obvious place to discuss policy, and I’m certainly not qualified to assess the House of Lords report other than from a personal position; however I do feel that GOLDIE magazine can show how we are able to share ideas which connect all ages whilst at the same time focusing on the benefits of age. I would like to find a way to use a magazine to foster meaningful contact between members of different social groups and reduce age prejudice, stereotyping and discrimination. It is highly damaging of the media to perpetuate the idea that it is anything other than the fault of greed, profit and commercial motivation – the impression that one must lose so another can win – which is causing the inequalities we currently have in society. When generations recognize they have more in common than that which divides them we can begin to work together to eliminate social injustice. Yep, a big ask for a quarterly print magazine which loves pretty frocks…


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