Beware the baby boomer backlash

Sep 01 2003 by Brian Amble Print This Article

The government is risking a ‘baby boomer backlash’ if it doesn’t deal with the demands of a generation who plan to grow older very differently from their parents, according to a new report published by independent think tank Demos and the charity Age Concern England.

The report warns that the 17 million people born between 1945 and 1965 who make up a third of the population will punish governments at the ballot box for not meeting their demands, with quality and choice in public services and pensions proving to be the most contentious issues.

And it adds that the welfare state could be damaged if governments are forced to tailor it to the demands of a militant group of the middle-aged.

The authors suggest that baby boomers could either turn into ‘the selfish generation’, which contrasts with the Dunkirk spirit of their parents, or ‘civic defenders’ who push for wider social change as they have done in the past.

The challenge for future governments and political leaders is to persuade the baby boom generation to continue to embrace their radicalism, which has made them the leaders of social change at every stage of their lives.

"Future governments will have to do a deal with the baby boomer generation," said authors Julia Huber and Paul Skidmore. "Attempts to encourage people to continue working without offering something in return will lead to a baby boomer backlash.

"At the same time, the welfare state could reach breaking point if the baby boomers use their political muscle to force governments to prioritise their own public services at the expense of society as a whole."

Nudging up the retirement age in the workplace, as the present government is attempting, without offering baby boomers greater flexibility in their in later life to readjust their work/life balance will also prove explosive.

"A new generation of 17 million older people are marching towards retirement with a clear set of demands,’ says Gordon Lishman, Director General of Age Concern.

"The boomers are unlikely to put up and shut up. If the political parties fail to listen to the boomers on priority issues like the provision of public services and retirement then they could be punished at the ballot box."

Demos sets out 11 challenges for policy-makers in dealing with the coming social revolution and makes some specific recommendations, including the development of so-called ‘granny creches’ in workplaces which would enable employed people to juggle jobs and care of older relatives.

Other suggestions include creation of a new opportunities for ‘elderpreneurs’ to fulfil lifelong ambitions to start new businesses or social enterprises, including low-risk equity release schemes, underwritten by the government, and requiring all new housing developments to be ‘elder-enabled’ to break up ‘grey ghettos’ and promote multi-generational living.