I welcome media reports that you are planning to make intergenerational fairness a key theme of your Budget on 22 November. There is much to do to address issues such as housing, work, debt, care and of course taxation, as well as building a stronger society for all ages.
Can I make three pleas and five suggestions.
First the pleas. Please do not use the Budget to pit generations against each other. Please don’t tinker in an effort to generate a few headlines – we need fundamental reforms that will tackle and heal some of the grievances dividing our country. And rather than spreading the jam thinly, please focus extra help on those struggling the most.
So what measures could your Budget include while public finances are relatively healthy?
First, housing is probably the biggest grievance young people have. The government has recognised that the housing market is broken. Everyone agrees that we need to build at least 300,000 new homes every year. At the moment not enough affordable homes are being developed and funding needs to be refocused towards building affordable housing.
As well as efforts to help first time buyers, more could be done to support last-time buyers, thereby freeing up more family sized homes. Creating more housing options for older people and removing some of the barriers that stop older people moving would help younger people as well.
Secondly, work isn’t working for a lot of people of all ages. Too many jobs are insecure, poorly paid and part-time. Raising the national living wage to £10 an hour would provide immediate help to many families along with more help paying for childcare and transport. More flexible working opportunities for older workers with care responsibilities, support for small business start-ups, and tax cuts for the lower paid would all help.
Third, debt is increasingly endemic in our society. It’s not sustainable economically but it’s also draining psychologically and physically. Making work pay is a start. And keeping interest rates low on tuition fees for example as well as raising the income at which tuitions fees debt become repayable.
Fourthly, there is the long awaited reform of care funding. As the general election earlier this year showed, this is a tricky issue. But that’s a not good reason for putting off difficult decisions. At the moment the lack of reform is simply pushing more and more of the cost of care onto hard-pressed families and carers of all generations. A two tier care system is emerging between those who can pay for quality care in old age and everyone else who can’t or who rely on squeezed council funding. This is unfair on the current and future generations of older people.
Finally taxation which is how voters have traditionally judged the Budget and which will pay for the above measures. There are anomalies affecting people of different ages that could be rectified – for example working people of any age should pay national insurance. Income tax and council tax should be made more progressive. More fundamentally the burden of taxation needs to be shifted from income to wealth and assets. This would be the biggest single measure to address unfairness between generations.
This is the time for government to be bold. Being bold is not an excuse for pitting generations against each other – government must take the lead in building a country for all ages.
We look forward to your Budget rising to these challenges on 22 November.
Stephen Burke is director of United for All Ages