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The millennials versus the baby boomers: Students demonstrate against education cuts and tuition fees in November 2015 (©Rob Stothard/Getty Images)

“The ultimate test of man’s conscience may be his willingness to sacrifice something today for future generations whose words of thanks will not be heard.” So said former United States Senator Gaylord Nelson. He was alluding to the timeless issue of intergenerational tensions that are passed from grandparent to parent, from parent to child.

Although George Osborne has shelved the next stage of his “pensions revolution” which he was due to unveil in his latest Budget, the issue will not go away. There is a growing sense of cross-generational dissatisfaction, exacerbated by the media, quick to report that today’s “millennials” — those born between the early 1980s and the early 2000s, also known as Generation Y — are the unluckiest generation since the Second World War, while people nearing pension age find the welcoming horizons of retirement receding ever further.

Aggravating factors include economics; advances in science and technology; shifts in cultural attitudes; and the proliferation of communications. The reason the argument is taking a critical turn now is because the British population is swelling — and fast.

According to the Office of National Statistics, we have grown by more than 10 million people since 1964 (an overall population increase of 18.7 per cent) and approximately half of this growth has occurred in the last 15 years. Not only are we growing in number, but we are getting older. A recent government report stated that ten million people in Britain are over the age of 65 and that this number will have nearly doubled to approximately 19 million by 2050. And as the number of elderly citizens rises, so too does the number of very old citizens. There are currently more than three million people over the age of 80, and if current patterns continue this figure will have almost doubled by 2030.

The demographic shift is largely due to improvements in healthcare. The changing face of the British population compounds the increasing pressure on the younger generation to support the old in the long term.

Consider the financial implications of these demographic changes: an ageing population will place a heavy financial burden on the state. Some 65 per cent of Department for Work and Pensions benefit expenditure goes to those in retirement. If the population increases at the current rate, the government will need to spend an additional £10 billion per annum for every additional one million people in the retirement age bracket. How will it do this? By taxing those in work — in other words, the middle-aged and the young.

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April 1st, 2016
11:04 PM
Just over 100 years ago about 10% of the population were in domestic service, hours of work were much longer,health care was paid for by the individual,there was world war and conscription about to be introduced and roughly 10% owned their own homes. Most young people including my daughters will own their own home and inherit property.

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