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Blog: Millennials need to be given a chance to shape policy

New statistics from the Office for National Statistics and Institute for Fiscal Studies offer hope for the Millennial generation, but there is still no cause for celebration.

Blog: Millennials need to be given a chance to shape policy

I’ll lay my cards on the table. I’m a millennial (1993). As a member of this cohort, barely a day goes by when I’m not made aware of some accusation regarding what ‘your lot’ has done to ‘our lot’.

But why? The charges, your honour, are that the baby boomers feasted in the good times on a precarious but lucrative rise in property values, while being guaranteed all sorts of lovely final salary pensions and benefits that governments and businesses (run by baby boomers) are now rolling back on.

Oh, and need I mention that the older generation seems to have voted for Brexit, without the prospect of having to live with its long-term consequences?

I don't necessarily agree with all this, but there is a general feeling from my generation that we have been, at the very least, let down by those older than us

I am not decisively in the ‘I have every right to be frustrated and older people should do something about it’ camp. Young people should be using the resources available to them to make a success of their lives.

Of course, my generation has its own feasts too. We were the first generation to have access to gadgets such as iPhones and iPads. We have also grown up alongside internet shopping and social media. We have also seen knowledge in important areas such as healthcare grow. You might argue that we have ‘never had it so good.’

One new statistic might reassure people like my fictional (but very real) millenial contemporary. It debunks the myth that the baby boomer cohort is much bigger than its counterparts. 

The argument made by former Conservative minister David - ‘Two Brains’ - Willetts in his famous book The Pinch is that the baby boomer generation yields enormous political power owing to its size – more so than others, millennials included. Consequently it attracts politicians who want to cater for it.

Willetts needs to update his numbers, though, if new figures are correct. According to the Office for National Statistics, the UK’s millennial generation is now actually larger than its baby boomer counterpart. The former is 17.1 million in size. The latter weighs in at 15.3 million.

I'm not sure young people will be heartened by this myth debunking at all. Nor will they be celebrating news that, according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies, income inequality has actually fallen since the financial crisis, and that the share of income tax contributed by the top 1% of earners has increased too.

That is because politicians are bound to actively ignore the young because of voting ages and youth apathy, two things which sit in a vicious circle of causation. As such, no-one has ever won an election on the youth vote.

But I think there is another reason for this too, bound up in what it means to be young. Give a 65 year-old a triple lock on their pension and they might (justifiably) say that it is better for them than the policy that preceded it. Give young people investment of that kind and they may not even notice.

Moreover, we can forgive 'yoofs' who are put off by politics’ facile obsession with short-termism, greed and petty point-scoring. They have a valid point.

Rather than ‘never had it so good,’ then, there is a sense of ‘never known any different.’ Perhaps that also explains why millennials don’t regard their ‘luxuries’ with any sense of appreciation.

Though Willetts has now been proven wrong on generation sizes, then, he remains correct that the inter-generational contract is failing. Fixing it will be a massive job. It will take visionary policy and political risk-taking. I will hold my hands up here and say I agree with Ros Altmann: the triple-lock should be downgraded. We should invest that money in young people.

For the moment, though, despite some good news, young people rightly have no cause for celebration. That is why we must redouble our efforts to reassure and help them.

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