View from the Street: Millennials need to vote their way out of generational inequality

Adam Shaw

View from the Street: Millennials need to vote their way out of generational inequality

Around 18 months ago, I attended a pensions seminar (bear with me) hosted by one of the large investment managers in London. As a mid-twenty something, I brought the average age of the audience down by about 10 years on my own – something that was very much reflected in the discussion.

Apparently oblivious to my presence despite it being a small room, or perhaps they didn’t care, the panel spent just under an hour criticising the frivolous nature of today’s young people and lambasting our failure to adequately save for retirement.

Similar sentiments were echoed by audience members during the Q&A session. I use the term ‘Q&A’ reluctantly since most who stood up took the opportunity to offer their own long-winded opinion without actually posing a question.

To say I was irked when I left would be an understatement.

Obviously, there are varying levels of wealth within and across different age groups. But it is well established that millennials as a whole are going to be the first generation of modern times to be financially worse off than their parents.

So criticism of our saving habits from a group of senior investment managers in their mid-50s – who in all likelihood are looking forward to final salary pensions and probably bought their house when it was just twice or three rather than six times the average annual income - was a bitter pill to swallow.

With lower average wages, near zero interest rates and property prices rapidly outstripping pay, young people generally face a choice between saving for retirement or a deposit for their first home. And that’s if they’re lucky.

Then there are the widening pension deficits; a problem that will be made all the more acute by the UK government’s target of reducing net immigration to below 100,000 – an arbitrary figure they seemingly plucked out of thin air.

Writing for The Times Red Box last week, Work and Pensions Secretary Damien Green suggested that some view tackling generational inequality as a binary choice; either you help young people whilst penalising pensioners, or vice-versa.

I don’t believe that any young person would want to see their elders punished and, of course, the reductions in pensioner poverty are to be welcomed. But you can understand why young people are disillusioned when they have been hit disproportionately hard by the economic troubles while pensioners have benefitted from the ‘triple lock’ and the rising value of their homes.

I’ve seen various comment pieces arguing this indignation is a classic symptom of so-called ‘Generation Snowflake’.

And to an extent, millennials do have themselves to blame. At the 2015 General Election, just 43% of 18-24 year olds and 54% in the 25-34 age group turned out to vote. This compares with the 77% and 78% for the 55-64 and 65+ brackets respectively.

For politicians working on five year cycles, it would be self-defeating in the short-term to implement policies which adversely affect influential sections of the electorate. Basically, the grey vote matters far more.

If young people don’t start exercising their democratic right in greater numbers, then they continue to be an easy target. The solution is far easier said than done, but if millennials begin wielding their influence at the ballot box then it’ll be good for democracy and their financial future.