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Can we achieve fairness across generations in an ageing society?

In the UK  we have tended to avoid more intense forms of political competition for resources by age-group. While groups such as pensioners have learned to shout louder than they used to for fair treatment, we've not had the American phenomenon of generations seeing themselves as sectional interests competing for resources: education dollars versus pension dollars. Over here, the age lobby themselves are keen to maintain a sense of "intergenerational solidarity", and older people think about the well-being of their grandchildren.

However, the theme of intergenerational justice has been surfacing recently, in the context of adults today "mortgaging our children's futures" through our excesses. Escalating consumption first produced huge private debts and then, when these started to go bad, large public debts to prevent a financial collapse. Our children will need to pay these back, as well as to bear the costs of our overconsumption of natural resources and degradation of the environment. The "boomer" generation that produced these excesses is further attacked as having won benefits - like free higher education and generous pension schemes - which were not really sustainable. 

In a presentation to a conference on this theme organised by the age and equalities bodies, I argue against seeing these issues in terms of competition between age cohorts or age groups. The "lucky boomer" idea is deeply flawed and ahistorical: I show that each cohort has had advantages in some respects and disadvantages in others. More fundamentally, in creating sustainable systems of reciprocity across age-groups in the context of changed demography, it's more helpful to think about how such a settlement works in everybody's interest across their lifetime, rather than serving one group or another.

Theme: Ageing