The Generation Game

Last week, we launched our report, Intergenerational Fairness: A Survey of Citizens in 10 European Countries. This report has analysed responses from 10,000 Europeans across Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Poland, Sweden, Switzerland and the UK, on whether they feel different generations are being treated equally.

The report also looks at how Europeans would prioritise policies with a strong intergenerational dimension, including on poverty and unemployment, pensions and social care, education and infrastructure, tax, sustainability and debt.

The responses are broken down across the different countries and age groups, and show each generation has differing priorities, and levels of concern vary from country to country.

The findings are concerning. Fewer than one in four Europeans feel their own generation is getting fair treatment. But far more worrying is that Europeans of all ages believe governments are ignoring the potential financial consequences of their policies on future generations.

Intergenerational Contract

It is tempting to say that if every generation feels it is not getting equal treatment, then it must be special pleading, and things are probably all right. But if all of them are worried about the effects on young people, this should give us pause.

Our society works because there is a contract between the generations. The philosopher Edmund Burke wrote, “society is …a partnership between those that are dead, those who are living, and those who are to be born”. In practice, it means that the young must have faith that the older generations are taking the right decisions for their future, and accept that they, in turn, will look after them in their old age. With an ageing population, and with national budgets overstretched, the intergenerational contract is under strain like never before.

A New Framework

We urgently need a step change in the way we approach intergenerational fairness – one that is open for everyone to understand, contribute to, and scrutinise. We will need to accept that public finances are complex and that some trade-offs will have to be made.

As chartered accountants, we believe any policy-making strategy must start from a place of clarity, rigour and integrity. We are therefore proposing a framework based on five core considerations to encourage transparent, informed and accountable decision-making on what is fair. We hope this will prompt further ideas and suggestions on how to refine and apply such a framework.

Because if we cannot find a way to tackle this, it is only going to get worse.