Politics today is one of big questions, but few answers. On Brexit that is true in bucket loads. For the Conservatives that is because they simply do not agree with each other. For Labour it is because all the incentives are to leave this as the Tories problem – ambiguity is the order of the day.
But Brexit isn’t the only big challenge facing the country. That fact was a key motivation behind the Intergenerational Commission – launched just after our age-divided Brexit vote and whose final report is published today. Its starting point was the fact that the public, rightly, believed that today’s young adults are having a tough time.
The Commission has found that generational progress – that each generation should have a better standard of living than the one before them – is stalling. By the age of 30, young people are earning no more than those born 15 years earlier. On housing, young people today are paying more, owning less and commuting further.
You’d expect the state to step in address this. But instead we chose to focus welfare cuts on the millennial generation just at the point at which more of them are entering the expensive child rearing years.
The result? For many young adults it looks like our country’s priorities simply lie elsewhere.
But it’s not just millennials who are being let down. Just as crucial is our disastrous approach to delivering the health and care that older generations deserve, need and expect. Social care in England is a disgrace, as older generations most likely to rely on it know only too well. And if we can’t deal the healthcare funding challenge of today, how can we tackle the £24 billion challenge of tomorrow – the additional cost of delivering health care for an ageing society in the decade ahead?
Families have responded to these challenges with the growth of the bank of mum and dad and caring for elderly relatives. It’s time we as a society stepped up too.
It is not easy but we can deliver the health and care older generations deserve. A £2.3bn NHS levy that extends National Insurance to pensioners would mean we are not simply asking younger workers to bear all the costs. Replacing our regressive and out-of-date council tax with a genuine property tax would mean we can use the surge in household wealth that older generations have benefitted from to inject much needed resources into social care.
We also need to go further and show younger generations that Britain has as much to offer them as it did their predecessors.
One key area we can show this is through inheritances, which will become a much bigger feature of our country as they double over the next two decades. However, they will arrive far too late and reach too few and to address to address the difficulties young adults face in accumulating wealth and bearing greater risks. So we can introduce a £10,000 Citizen’s Inheritance for all young people, funded by abolishing an unpopular and loophole riddled inheritance tax and putting in place a low rate but low exemptions lifetime receipts tax.
These measures to renew our generational contract are far from easy – but that reflects the scale of the challenges we face and the reality that we have left them unaddressed for too long. No political party will take all these ideas up overnight, but as these issues persist in the months and years ahead we hope the Intergenerational Commission points the way, not least in showing that big questions for our country can be met with big answers. That is how we build a better Britain – and a more united one, too.
This article originally appeared in The Times’ Red Box.