Boomers Are Not Okay – By Helen Lewis (The Atlantic) / Nov 27 2019
Older voters warp their countries’ policies because of their political power. One British politician has a plan to end that dominance.
For more than two decades, the Conservative politician David Willetts was the member of Parliament representing Havant, a cozy middle-class town in southern England. He dealt with the usual problems: traffic in the town center, littering along the seafront.
After the 2007 financial crash, though, he noticed something alarming. He was regularly visited by young couples—the man might be a nurse, his partner might be a cashier at the local supermarket—who worked hard and lived frugally, yet found themselves “camping in the spare room of his parents’ house, with a baby in a box at the bottom of the bed, and they couldn’t see how they would ever get anywhere to live.” Often, Willetts would give them whatever help he could—very little—and then head over to a local residents’ association meeting, where he would talk to “completely decent people” in their 50s and 60s who owned their own home but wanted no further houses to be built in their neighborhood.
Willetts had stumbled onto one of the great divides of modern politics: young versus old. In Britain, age is now a better predictor of voting intention than social class. Overall, the Boomers voted for Brexit in 2016 and the Conservatives in 2017; their Millennial children voted Remain and Labour. The single biggest error that Theresa May, the prime minister in the lead-up to the 2017 election, made during that process was to float the idea that older people might have to contribute more to the spiraling costs of their own retirement care. The “dementia tax” prompted an immediate, ferocious response, and May backed down.
That is not an isolated example. A guiding principle of politics in Britain, and elsewhere in the West, is: What Boomers want, Boomers get. Working-age benefits, for example, have been frozen since the 2015 budget, but the state pension has consistently risen. (At this election, Britain’s two main parties have both promised to keep increasing pensions; Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour has also pledged £58 billion ($74.7 billion) to Boomer women affected by the rise in the female state pension age from 60 to 66.
The debate is also about so much more than abstract disagreements over policy and government funding. Caring for the elderly, for example, becomes wrapped up in assertions of “just deserts”—I’ve worked hard all my life and paid my taxes—and fears about money-grubbing children selling off their parents’ houses. It is also, like taxes on inheritance, a subject that prods at many people’s deep desire to pass something on to their offspring. Perhaps some are jealous of what appear to be greater opportunities afforded to younger people, bemused by younger generations’ lifestyles, and fearful that their own values are seen as outdated. Generational arguments are essentially family dramas, with all the friction that implies.