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Politics

Five graphs that show why the world today is so unfair for young people

Since the early 2000s, the disparities between young and old on housing, employment and health have been getting wider.

From laziness and narcissism to a propensity for spending housing deposits on avocados, there are few things young people haven’t been accused of by older generations. 

The usual line goes that young people today are pampered, spoiled and shielded from the hard knocks suffered by previous generations – but new research from the Intergenerational Foundation has revealed vast disparities between young and old that have unfolded over the past decade. 

The foundation’s research investigated 10 key policy areas over the past 10 years, finding that young people have fallen behind in nine out of the 10 areas examined, including housing, personal wealth and employment.

So how far have young people fallen behind – and what can be done about it? These are five ways intergenerational unfairness has increased – and how it can be tackled. 

Work 

In the early 2000s, fewer than 11 per cent of people across all age groups were forced to work part-time due to a lack of full-time options.

Though more young people were in this position than older generations at the time, the gap between them was small. 

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Following the 2008 recession, however, the number of young people working part-time involuntarily rose steeply, while older people were relatively unaffected. 

In 2019, just 1.9 per cent of over-65s were working part-time involuntarily, while almost 20 per cent of 16- to 24-year-olds were in this position due to an inability to find full-time work. 

The situation has worsened since the coronavirus pandemic, which saw the youngest age groups most affected by layoffs. 

The Intergenerational Foundation called work and employment one of the “key issues” for intergenerational equality, indicating that the steady, full-time jobs once available to older generations are not so easily accessible for younger people today.

This is partly due to an increase in insecure work and zero-hour contracts. 

Pay has also stagnated over the past decade, with 16- to 17-year-olds seeing the biggest decrease in real terms hourly wages – from £5.60 in 2004 to £5.12 in 2020.

The oldest working age group, meanwhile, has seen an increase of 13 per cent since 2004, rising from £12.04 to £13.60 in 2020.

Housing 

Though all age groups below 65+ have seen a decline in homeownership rates, the youngest age group has been hit hardest.

In 2013/2014, the rate of homeownership for 16- to 24-year-olds was just 37 per cent of the rate of homeownership a decade earlier in 2003/2004, with house prices continuing to rise today.

In 1997, the average full-time worker could expect to pay around 3.5 times their annual salary to buy a home: a figure that has risen to 7.8 for England and 11.8 for London in 2020. 

During the past decade, people aged 16 to 29 have consistently had less living space than older generations, with the 65+ group the only age group to not see a noticeable decrease in space over the past 10 years.

In 2017/18, when data was last available, 16- to 29-year-olds had less than 65 metres squared of living space on average, while those aged 45 to 64 had more than 75 square metres on average.

In 2019, figures showed 52 per cent of all owner-occupiers in the UK were under-occupying their homes, suggesting that living space is not being shared equally across generations. 

Government funding 

The foundation’s report also revealed a huge disparity in spending between pensioners and young people. 

In 2018/19, the government was spending an average of £20,800 on each pensioner in the country compared to £14,700 on each child – a £6,000 difference.

Spending on younger people is also less well-protected. Concessionary travel for pensioners is protected under law, while concessionary travel for children and young people is awarded on a discretionary basis.

The Intergenerational Foundation points out this is particularly unfair when considering that children up to 18 are legally required to stay in, and travel to, education or training, with apprenticeship wages standing at just £4.30 per hour.

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Personal wealth 

A combination of rising house prices, the triple lock on pensions and stagnating wages has seen huge disparities emerge in the personal wealth held by younger and older generations. 

In the six years between 2010/12 to 2016/18, the median individual wealth gap between the oldest and youngest age group increased by around 43 per cent.

While older generations have accrued more wealth over time, the real terms wealth of the two youngest age groups (16 to 24 and 25 to 24) has barely increased over this period. 

The two oldest age groups (55 to 64 and 65+) have seen the biggest gains in real median individual wealth, with the 65+ group seeing an increase of around £90,000 since 2010/12. 

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Cost of living 

On top of this, the cost of living has increased dramatically for younger people. 

In the early 2000s, data collected by the Intergenerational Foundation showed the oldest and youngest age groups were spending a similar percentage of their household income on essentials like food and living costs.

This represented around 53 per cent for under-35s and over-65s. 

By 2018/19, however, the only age group spending less on essentials was over-65s, with every other age group spending a higher proportion of their income than in 2000/01. 

Under-35s have been hit hardest, spending the highest proportion of their income – 62 per cent – on essential goods and services. 

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What can be done to fix the generation gap?

Without action on intergenerational unfairness, these gaps will only widen in the coming years. 

Action on policy areas including housing, taxation and employment will go a long way to help, but fixing these issues long-term will require planning.

The Future Generations Bill, from Big Issue founder Lord John Bird, aims to address generational inequality by forcing policymakers to assess all policies according to their impact on future generations. 

The bill, currently going through parliament, will force politicians to look beyond their own political terms, avoiding policy which benefits those alive today while disadvantaged the generations to come. 

As well as avoiding intergenerational unfairness, the bill intends to improve policy around all social issues, from homelessness to climate change. 

You can support the bill on the future generations bill website, where you can ask your MP to support it in parliament. 

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