Annabel Denham

No, Britain isn’t a gerontocracy

Outrage over the government’s National Insurance hike is wholly justified. It is absurd to have the working-age population foot the bill for social care while those over state pension age with substantial incomes and assets don’t contribute. It is regressive, reneges on a 2019 manifesto pledge and is nothing more than a sticking plaster to heal the festering wound that is our social care system. As for employer NI, this is a crude payroll tax that discourages employment at the margin and which will translate into lower wages down the line.

But the insistence by inter-generational warriors that we increasingly live in a gerontocracy, where the needs of the young are perpetually disregarded, is less convincing. ‘Government thinks only of the old,’ they cry, while complaining that for a few months in 2020 they weren’t allowed to date. As always in British politics, however, the true picture is more nuanced than can be conveyed in a 240-character tweet.

Few would disagree that the young have been knocked sideways by this pandemic. Pupils have been deprived of education; students of the university experience. Generation Z is extremely unlikely to suffer severe effects from the virus, yet have put major life events on hold, lost jobs in their droves and face hefty tax rises to plug the Covid debt.

For many older people, the narrative of a well-off senior generation never having had it so good rings hollow

But they should perhaps temper their emotion. First, while there was a large fall in employment levels for young people aged 16-24, and a subsequent rise in unemployment at the start of the pandemic, the latter has since returned to pre-pandemic levels. Unemployment in that age group, by historical standards, remains low. And while the impact of Covid has been greatest for younger workers, older people who lose their jobs are more likely to be at risk of long-term unemployment.

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