Honey, did we bankrupt the kids?

Sunday 20 October, 10.30am until 12.00pm, Cinema 2 Generation Wars

Children born today – anywhere in the world, whether Europe, the BRICS or even Africa - can expect to live longer, healthier and smarter lives than those born a hundred or even 50 years ago. But few seem to be celebrating. Instead, the focus is on dismal job prospects, unprecedented debt, declining public services and unaffordable housing. Former Chancellor of the Exchequer Alistair Darling has written, ‘You can’t honestly say to younger people any longer, you’ll do better than your father or mother’s generation’. And the received wisdom is that the blame lies with parents and grandparents who enjoyed the prosperity of the post-war boom but were too short-sighted to plan for a sustainable future. 
‘Generation Y’ has been dubbed the ‘jilted generation’. Certainly younger people seem to face a disproportionate share of the pain of the recession they were too young to have caused; unemployment is falling almost exclusively on those aged 25 and under. Moreover, increasing life expectancy coupled with the sheer numbers of the Baby Boomer generation means the young carry the burden of aging populations, with no guarantees of decent pensions as they themselves get older. Perhaps the young should complain, but some contend that ‘Generation Me’ should grow up, stop playing the blame game and rather think boldly about how they can take responsibility for solving today’s social problems. Instead of seeing themselves as victims of their greedy forebears, they should do what every young generation has done: stand on its own two feet.

Have the Boomers really squandered their children’s future, or has Generation Y been spoiled with expectations of material comfort of which their parents could only have dreamed?  Do ‘generation warriors’ have a point in claiming they’ve been denied the same opportunities as previous generations, and inherited a world of dwindling resources, environmental catastrophe and debt-driven austerity? Should we learn from the mistakes of the Boomers, and focus on creating a sustainable future? Or are we all being overly pessimistic in assuming that the dynamism of economic boom is something we’ll never see again? Can we really blame one generation for the troubles of the next? Being young today: very heaven or just plain hell?

Francis Beckett
author, journalist, playwright and contemporary historian; editor, Third Age Matters; author, What Did the Baby Boomers Ever Do For Us?

Shiv Malik
freelance investigative journalist; co-author, Jilted Generation: how Britain has bankrupted its youth; contributor, Prospect

Dr James Panton
head of politics, Magdalen College School, Oxford; associate lecturer in politics and philosophy, Open University; co-founder, Manifesto Club

Holly Pattenden
senior strategy analyst, Statoil

Neil Davenport
sociology and politics teacher; writer on culture; former music journalist

Produced by
Neil Davenport sociology and politics teacher; writer on culture; former music journalist
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