Reaching out across the age divide

Far from there being a binary age divide, many older people are worried about their younger family members and prepared to vote for policies that help them out, according to a discussion at the Resolution Foundation.



Amid talk of a relaxation in the triple lock pension, there has been a lot of discussion about intergenerational inequality. Often such discussions pitch older people against younger ones. But new research suggests that many older people are also worried about intergenerational inequality and would vote for policies that prioritise helping younger people when it comes to issues such as housing, childcare and education.

The research, conducted by the Nuffield Politics Research Centre at the University of Oxford in collaboration with the Resolution Foundation, suggests up to 17% of voters – twice the number of Red Wall voters – could be swayed if politicians were to reach out to them.

Based on a survey over over 6,000 adults, the researchers looked at the difference between over 60s’ voting intentions and priorities if they had younger relatives who were struggling financially and if they didn’t. The results show those with younger relatives – the so-called family fortunes voters – were more likely to vote differently to those without and to prioritise policies such as affordable childcare, education and affordable housing, to the benefit of Labour. Whereas voter intentions last August when the survey was conducted were significantly skewed towards the Conservatives for over 60s generally, the two parties were almost tied among those with younger family members who were struggling.

Zack Grant from the Nuffield Politics Research Centre said there could be both altruistic and self-interested reasons for family fortunes’ voters’ intentions – self interest because high childcare costs might mean they need to be around for grandparenting duties more or may need to finance younger family members. He added that younger people also supported issues affecting older people more, including the triple lock and greater investment in social care.

Intergenerational solidarity

Professor Jane Green from Nuffield College said the research showed the potential for intergenerational solidarity, even if it is not spoken about much, and that we don’t necessarily need to talk about an age divide when it comes to economics. This opens up an opportunity for politicians to talk about policies that speak to the whole family, she stated.

Rachel Cunliffe from the New Statesman said she felt that, although she had written a lot about the age divide, it was clear from the research that pitting generations against each other was not helpful and that no-one exists in a vacuum, independent from the rest of society. “People care deeply about the prospects of their loved ones and that is not reflected in current debate,” she said. “We are hearing too much from the extremes. The political challenge is to channel this electoral demographic [the 17%] into something positive. It’s a huge opportunity that no politician is yet seizing.”

Sophie Hale from the Resolution Foundation added that, since the survey took place last year, the cost of living crisis has deepened inequality, disproportionately affecting younger people, including more recently working families with mortgages, as they are more exposed. “We suspect the family fortunes cohort are not disappearing any time soon,” she said.

The research came the day after discussions about the Government possibly planning to look again at the triple lock pension which ensures pensions go up in line with the highest of three factors, including inflation and wage growth. This is in the light of rising wages, boosted this month by one-off bonus payments for some public sector workers. David Willetts, president of the Resolution Foundation, said the triple lock was brought in for three reasons, including to raise pensioner income following the impact of Thatcherism on pensioner poverty. “It was not supposed to be a permanent shift,” he said. Speakers suggested it is therefore right to be debating issues such as whether the triple lock is increasing intergenerational unfairness and whether a universal policy – ie one affecting all pensioners equally rather than those on the lowest incomes – is the best way forward.

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