On 25 January 2021, the House of Lords is due to debate the following motion:
Lord Price to move that the Grand Committee takes note of the report from the Select Committee on Intergenerational Fairness and Provision Tackling Intergenerational Unfairness (HL Paper 329 of session 2017–19).
In May 2018, the House of Lords agreed to establish a special inquiry (or ad hoc) committee to “consider the long-term implications of government policy on intergenerational fairness and provision”. The House’s Liaison Committee had proposed such a committee in March 2018, observing at the time that concern for intergenerational fairness was growing “as the millennial generation appears to be worse off than the baby boomer generation were at a similar age”.
The new special inquiry committee would follow earlier House of Lords ad hoc committee reports on ageing and social mobility, published in March 2013 and April 2016 respectively, and a House of Commons Work and Pensions Committee report on intergenerational fairness published in November 2016. The House of Lords had also held a debate on the issue of intergenerational fairness in October 2017.
During its inquiry, the Intergenerational Fairness and Provision Committee received 72 written evidence submissions and heard oral evidence from 55 witnesses across 22 evidence sessions. The committee also set up a ‘contact group’ to inform its work, consisting of 14 members of the public drawn from different parts of the country and falling within ‘younger’, ‘middle’ and ‘older’ age groups.
The committee was chaired by Lord True (Conservative), who now serves in government as a Minister of State at the Cabinet Office. Lord Price (Conservative), a former member of the committee, is expected to open the forthcoming debate on the committee’s behalf.
The committee published its report Tackling Intergenerational Unfairness on 25 April 2019. In opening, it observed that intergenerational fairness had become an “increasingly pressing concern for both policy makers and the public”. Exacerbating contributing factors included an “ageing population, the global financial crisis and successive government policies that have failed to consider generational issues”. The committee continued:
The relationship between older and younger generations is still defined by mutual support and affection. However, the action and inaction of successive governments risks undermining the foundation of this relationship. Many in younger generations are struggling to find secure, well-paid jobs and secure, affordable housing, while many in older generations risk not receiving the support they need because government after government has failed to plan for a long-term generational timescale.
The committee reached conclusions in six main areas. These were summarised as follows:
- Accounting for the future: “Lack of political will has meant that data is not published on generational differences in income and wealth, nor on the potential effects of policy on different generations at the time policy is being considered. Both the Government’s fiscal rules and the way it conducts spending reviews encourage an often-damaging short-term approach. They need to be reformed with a new fiscal rule focused on the Government’s generational balance of debt and assets and a more transparent spending review process. There should be a broad equivalence, and a sense of equivalence and fairness, about what is contributed over a lifetime and what is received by successive generations”.
- The housing challenge: “Many younger people are struggling to secure affordable housing. This is caused by the failure of successive governments to ensure a sufficient supply of affordable homes to buy and to rent. Although the Government states that housing supply is one of its priorities, it is still not doing enough to address this problem. It could go further by giving local authorities much stronger powers to develop housing on publicly owned land and to borrow to fund house building. It has also failed to ensure that the private rented sector is a viable tenure for people to live in for the long-term. Tenants in the private rented sector need much greater security and stability”.
- Educating generations: “Younger people are also disadvantaged by an education and training system that is ill equipped for the needs of the rapidly changing labour market and all generations will need support in adapting to technological change in the course of what will be longer working lives. Post-16 vocational education is underfunded and poorly managed. The Government’s apprenticeships strategy is confused and has not achieved the desired effect. In addition, the options to retrain and reskill in later life are incoherent and underfunded. Much more investment is needed in both vocational education and lifelong learning to prepare younger generations for a 100-year life”.
- Working: “Pay progression has slowed for younger generations. They are unlikely to enjoy the same generation-on-generation income gains that their predecessors received. Younger generations are also more likely to find themselves in insecure employment, without the rights that come with worker status. The Government should ensure that employment rights cover all those in genuine employment by ensuring that worker status is the default position. Longer working lives will require greater consideration for initiatives such as flexible working, mid-life career reviews and tackling ageism in the workforce”.
- All-age communities: “Active communities have a key role to play in meeting these generational challenges. Communities and a strong sense of place strengthen intergenerational bonds by bringing generations together and sustaining shared loyalties. Communities may also help to directly tackle skills, care and housing shortages through innovative local initiatives”.
- Intergenerational taxation: “The tax and spending policies of successive governments have failed to pay sufficient regard to longer-term policy consequences. This is an endemic failure of policy making. It has undermined intergenerational fairness, including for generations yet to be born. Successive governments have failed to make proper provision for the costs of social care in old age for the large post war cohort who are now entering a lengthy retirement and who will rely on smaller, younger generations to pay for them. More recently, governments have prioritised social security spending for older people. This was originally justified. But now retired people have higher incomes on average than many younger groups. Changes are necessary to both age-related benefits and the taxation system to address these issues”.
Theresa May’s government responded to the committee’s report in a command paper published on 22 July 2019. The response included the following:
- Accounting for the future: The Government agreed that “fully considering the long-term implications of policies is important”. It argued this was evidenced by its fiscal rules, which aimed to ensure “sustainable public finances which lessen the debt interest burden on future generations”. The Government added that it had already “committed to requiring departments to show how their bids deliver long-term” following a National Audit Office report that made recommendations in this area. It also said HM Treasury’s guidance on appraisal and evaluation for programmes, policies and projects (contained in the Green Book) already recommended steps be taken in the preparation of business cases to “ensure that the impacts of an intervention on future generations are fully captured and appraised”.
- Housing: The Government said it was committed to increasing the supply of affordable housing and outlined policy responses designed to increase the supply of homes, including allowing local authorities to borrow more to build council homes; releasing government-held land for home building; and making changes to the planning framework.
- Education: The Government said it was aiming to improve the quality of education provision, particularly in relation to apprenticeships and further and technical education. It added that it was also engaged in testing various retraining and life-long learning programmes for effectiveness.
- Work: In respect of the committee’s recommendations on work, the Government said it had committed to a “wide range of policy and legislative changes to ensure that all workers can access fair and decent work, that both employers and workers have the clarity they need to understand their employment relationships, and that the enforcement system is fair and fit for purpose”. It said it supported flexible working and highlighted that it was now standard practice for all civil service roles to be advertised as available for flexible working unless there was a strong business case otherwise.
- Communities: The Government said it was “committed to bringing people together and enabling communities to influence and act” and outlined different funding streams available to support community organisations and wider civil society in local areas.
- Taxation: The Government said it disagreed with the committee that the triple lock for the state pension should be removed. Of its approach in this area generally, the Government said it was “committed to ensuring economic security for people at every stage of their life, including when they reach retirement. But we are also clear that fairness between the generations must be maintained”. The Government went on to outline its responses to the committee’s recommendations in respect of age-related benefits such as free television licenses, free bus passes and winter fuel payments; and those relating to proposals to change or amend national insurance thresholds, council tax and stamp duty.
On 10 July 2019, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) issued a response to the committee’s specific recommendation that it “should prioritise improving generational statistics”. Iain Bell, Deputy National Statistician and Director General of Population and Public Policy at the ONS, confirmed that the ONS was “already in the process” of taking forward specific aspects of this recommendation, including a generational breakdown of the effects of tax and benefits on household income data set and backdating this to the extent that the data allowed.
Recent government statements
A wide range of parliamentary debates held in the period since the report’s publication have included consideration of issues relevant to debates on intergenerational fairness. This includes debates held since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, in which speakers have reflected on the impact this has had on and between different generations. Examples of ministerial statements in respect of intergenerational fairness since March last year include the following:
- During a debate held in March 2020, Lord True, who had chaired the Intergenerational Fairness and Provision Committee but had since been appointed a Minister of State at the Cabinet Office, confirmed the Government was of the view that intergenerational thinking was “hugely important”. He added that he felt governments were “increasingly aware of and concerned and thoughtful about the intergenerational aspects and consequences of policy”.
- In a debate on recovery strategies in the context of the pandemic held in June 2020, Baroness Penn, a government whip, said that the Government “will have failed in the question of intergenerational fairness” if it could not address the impact of both the “pandemic and the climate crisis on young people and our next generation”.
- During a debate on the Social Security (Up-rating of Benefits) Bill held in October 2020, Baroness Stedman-Scott, Parliamentary Under Secretary at the Department for Work and Pensions, explained the reasoning behind the Government’s decision to maintain the triple lock on the state pension. She said: “We have recently seen rises in the living standards of pensioners, but we must remember that not all pensioners are in the same position. Over one million current pensioners rely solely on the state for their income”. Lady Stedman-Scott added: “today’s working-age people are tomorrow’s pensioners, and future generations of pensioners will also benefit from the way in which the state pension is uprated today”.
- In response to a question following a statement on 10 November 2020, Lord Agnew of Oulton, Minister of State at the Cabinet Office and HM Treasury, said in relation to the pandemic that “intergenerational solidarity is vital as we come through this crisis”.
- In December 2020, Lord Greenhalgh, Minister of State at the Home Office and Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, repeated a written statement in which he outlined the Government’s manifesto pledge to “deliver a million homes over the course of this parliament and […] seek to increase housebuilding towards 300,000 new homes a year”. He added the Government wanted to “build more homes as a matter of social justice, of intergenerational fairness and as one of the best proven ways of creating jobs and economic growth”.
- House of Lords, ‘Policy must be rebalanced in favour of the young, say Lords Committee’, 25 April 2019
- Oral question on ‘Spending review: Intergenerational fairness and well-being’, HL Hansard, 20 May 2019, cols 1772–4
- Debate on ‘Policy-making: Future generations’ interests’, HL Hansard, 20 June 2019, cols 900–34
- Social Market Foundation, Intergenerational Fairness in the Coronavirus Economy, 14 April 2020
- Institute for Fiscal Studies, Living Standards, Poverty and Inequality in the UK: 2020, 25 June 2020
- Resolution Foundation Intergenerational Centre, An Intergenerational Audit for the UK, 7 October 2020; and ‘Intergenerational fairness’, accessed 20 January 2021
- Intergenerational Foundation, ‘Research’, accessed 20 January 2021
- Intergenerational Fairness Forum, ‘Homepage’, accessed 20 January 2021
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