Fuelling intergenerational conflict will not solve the inequalities in society
Newspaper headlines continue to add fuel to the fire in pursuing a narrative of imbalance within generations.
Writing for Global Intergenerational Week, our Chief Executive, Dr Carole Easton OBE, argues the media needs to take greater care and consideration when writing about age to avoid harmful stereotyping and generalisations.
At the weekend there was a piece in The Observer called 'Boomers, you’ve done OK but don’t expect undying affection from us millennials'. The piece’s author, Martha Gill, goes on to say that “younger people can only watch in envy as older generations are tempted into golden early retirement”.
I have much sympathy for much of the gist of her article. It is hugely concerning that young people cannot afford rent or mortgages and that they fear they cannot rely on a suitable pension when they are older.
But framing this as “intergenerational unfairness” and implying that all older people are living a life of luxury is simplistic and potentially dangerous – both individually and politically.
Nothing of course applies to ALL older people, as could be said too applying of ALL younger people. The reality is that some older people have comfortable lives but many don’t, and this number is now growing. Over two million people over 65 are living in poverty, 2.9 million pensioners have no workplace or private pension and 1.3 million pensioners have no savings. There are more than 17 years difference in healthy life expectancy between the most affluent and the least. Over two million older people live in homes that do not meet basic decency standards. I doubt that these are the people whom Martha envies. It is crucial that the diversity of older people is recognised otherwise we risk penalising even further those who are already struggling.
I hope that younger people are not manipulated in deflecting their anger or resentment against another generation.
Sadly attempts within the media to stoke intergenerational conflict are all too common. Over the same weekend, the Evening Standard ran a similar column from Emily Sheffield headlined 'Boomers got lucky, it's time ministers fixed the pensions timebomb'. The use of Boomer as a pejorative to fuel feelings of injustice, imbalance and contempt between generations, riding on the back of the much-used internet meme “Ok, Boomer”, is a rhetorical tool to stirring up hatred that the media feels increasingly comfortable in using.
The media has significant abilities to influence societal views and opinions, able to encourage and reinforce existing stereotypes and stir up intergenerational resentment with a just a few sharp barbs. At the Centre for Ageing Better we feel journalists and editors should take more responsibility for the power they wield.
Last year, we co-produced guidance for reporting on ageing and older age with the Older People’s Commissioner for Wales for inclusion in the Independent Press Standards Organisation’s (IPSO) external resources for journalists. We are continuing to campaign for IPSO, the independent body that regulates most of the UK’s newspapers and magazines, to add age to Clause 12 of its Editors Code of Practice, which focuses on avoiding discrimination.
In the guidance, we advise journalists and editors not to stoke conflict between generations or present old age as a societal burden. Instead, the guidance suggests those working in the media highlight the diversity that exists within generations, and to understand the differences between inequalities in wealth and intergenerational conflict.
Framing issues of societal unfairness purely with an intergenerational focus has the risk of deflecting solutions away from political engagement and stoking conflict between groups. As an older person myself I am more than happy to support my younger colleagues in fighting for more and better housing opportunities. I would also like to point out that policies that benefit one group of people often benefit the whole of society. So for example, if we could have a home improvement strategy to ensure all homes are decent and accessible, everyone, no matter their age, would benefit.
Martha wonders why more younger people have not made more of “intergeneration unfairness” and suggests that this is due to ties of love or a realisation that one day they too will be older. One glance at the newspapers might suggest there is plenty being made of “intergenerational unfairness” every day. But I hope that younger people are not manipulated in deflecting their anger or resentment against another generation and instead use their energy and determination to challenge policies and practice that are in no-one’s best interest.
Today marks the start of Global Intergenerational Week, promoting increased understanding and respect between different generations; raising awareness and calling for the reduction of negative stereotypes and prejudices. I really hope that the messages the week promotes win out against the messaging of intergenerational envy, hatred and contempt. For all our sakes.