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There’s a lot of talk about age diversity and it is often pitted against other forms of diversity. A recent forum which celebrated the potential of intergenerational solidarity is therefore a breath of fresh air.
There has been a lot of talk about age divisions of late. We seem to live in a world of division, with the extremes always grabbing the microphone – and, as a journalist, I admit the press has a big responsibility here. There are a lot of people with a vested interest in provoking division. The age division argument is, of course, stoked by economic reality. This week has seen, for instance, a debate about the triple lock pension system. Is it fair that pensions continue to rise in line with either inflation or wage growth or 2.5%, whichever is highest, while the wages of many working people, often with young families to feed, continue to fall?
There is also growing awareness about ageism in the recruitment process – and in many other walks of life. This is definitely something many older people tell us they are experiencing and it’s important to talk about it. But in some of the discussions I’ve seen bias against young people creeping in, like it’s an us against them situation. Young people, according to these comments, are lightweights. They only want to work their hours and are not committed. Older people work all hours and are a much better hire. It’s no good, though, countering ageism by propounding it. Is working your hours such a bad thing in any event? Why should you be committed heart and soul to a company which, at the end of the day, is more interested in the bottom line than in your wellbeing [unless it affects the bottom line?]. In a world of turbulence, not least a global pandemic and climate disaster, maybe there are more important things to think about. If that could be harnessed into a priority for all manner of jobs, maybe we’d all feel more “committed”.
The other thing I hear regularly is that age is not on the agenda in the same way as other types of diversity. While there is some truth in this, it doesn’t mean that we should do less on other forms of diversity and it certainly doesn’t mean that ageism only affects white men. One man told me his MP said the reason he wasn’t getting an interview was due to him not ticking the right diversity boxes. Rather than offering any practical help, the politician was seeking to sow division. We can expect a lot more of this kind of thing in the next year as the general election looms.
But it doesn’t have to be that way – everyone divided against each other. It’s exhausting and soul-destroying and it doesn’t actually help anyone. A debate the other day was therefore a breath of fresh air. Hosted by the Resolution Foundation think tank, it focused on intergenerational solidarity. Based on research, conducted by the Nuffield Politics Research Centre at the University of Oxford in collaboration with the Resolution Foundation, it focused on what it called the ‘family fortune’ voters, older people worried about their younger family members who would prioritise policies such as on housing, childcare or education that are aimed at younger people in an election. The research suggests up to 17% of voters – twice the number of Red Wall voters – could be swayed to vote for those policies if politicians were to reach out to them. Rachel Cunliffe from the New Statesman and someone who has written extensively about how policies are skewed towards the old, said: “People care deeply about the prospects of their loved ones and that is not reflected in current debate. We are hearing too much from the extremes. The political challenge is to channel this electoral demographic [the 17%] into something positive. It’s a huge opportunity that no politician is yet seizing.”
It’s amazing really that politicians haven’t noticed this because that’s how families generally operate. There may be disagreements and divisions, but in the main we help each other out. It would be good if we focused on what we can actually do to alleviate inequality and bias and tackle all the myriad problems ahead of us rather than just wasting our time pitting people against each other.