Labour and Co-operative Member of
Parliament for Kemptown and Peacehaven

“Stimulating intergenerational dialogue and solidarity between the generations: a shared responsibility”

by Lloyd on 18.09.12
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Speech to the UNECE Ministerial Conference on Ageing 2012

“Stimulating intergenerational dialogue and solidarity between the generations: a shared responsibility”

Final Version Speaking notes: Lloyd Russell-Moyle, YFJ Board Member given on 20th September 2012

Abstract
What do all generations want? A better future, without compromising the present? Lloyd Russell-Moyle, Board Member of the European Youth Forum, puts some personal reflections as to the challenges of intergenerational solidarity. Focusing on the need to re-balance the democratic life of young people, the work, pension and economic life of all people, the service provision for those at the margins of society and all though the prism of sustainable development: fulfilling the needs of today without compromising the potential of tomorrow. Finally he reflects, that many of the concerns of the old and young are similar but that caution should me made to allow autonomy to flourish within solidarity.

We are all future generations, from the oldest of us to the youngest, living tomorrow must mean that we all have a care to make sure that the future will turn out better than today. Human progress, development and growth (in the wider sense) have improved the lives of billions of people over time, increasingly however in recent years this progress has made the lives of those on the edges of society worse not better.

This has actually affected both the oldest and youngest in society, and whilst the gap between generations can sometimes seem to be larger than ever before, I wish to put it to you that we have more to gain together, in solidarity, than we do apart. In this context I talk of not dialogue between the generations, but solidarity under-scoring sacrifices that all present generations must make for the next.

I come from European Youth Forum, the largest democratic grouping of youth organisations in the world representing almost 900 million young people in Europe. Whilst many of our members represent children we mainly represent young people as a stage of life from childhood to adulthood but mainly somewhere form 15 to 35. (Seeing that we have already heard that many people consider themselves younger to even 45 many of you maybe young), We speak with one voice to get a better deal for the young today and for all tomorrow. Like many of us I have seen family members first hand get old, suffer the indignity and pain of poor heath and pass away; but I have also seen family members, loved and looked after by their close family, sharing stories, ideas and experiences, which not only help shape all of us but pass on a vision of a better future for all, including the very weakest and overlooked in society.

“Changing societies” must not be an excuse to leave behind those who are unwilling or unable to change with them, they must be careful not to jilt the younger in preference for the elder and they must share the pain which is always felt in social change. Most of all we must put an end to the “old vs Young” dichotomy that divides us and realise that both young and old are the victims of age discrimination.

Demographic changes lead to a need for democratic changes

Europe is are getting older and living longer (or to be more accurate some of us are living longer, those who are well off, have access to heath care and other public services). In the rush to cater for a generation of older voters we must also understand the needs of young voters who also feel left out.

With young people dissatisfied with the state of European democracy, A voice for young people who are worst affected and most alienated from the formal political process must now be a corner stone of a future Europe and intergenerational solidarity. Votes at 16 would re-link that intergenerational solidarity between those who are young and those that are old enough to vote providing a direct link to the concept of recognising those who have a larger stake in the future and those who wish/need to see change today.

At the next European elections the European Youth Forum will launch the League of Young Voters (modelled on the League of Women Votes in the USA when they became enfranchised) It will build youth as a political force in Europe, this however should not be seen as competition to older generations, but in-fact a force to unite with. It will start to re-dress the balance between young people being sidelined, as an electoral force it would put youth policies on the map and these are often similar to ageing policies.

Recent past generations had free education, free health care, and often a job for life; these rights and privileges were not easily won, but they have been so easily lost. New generations grow up with a higher education level than ever attained before but with worse job prospects. What is becoming clear is that the claim that financial gain is incurred through higher education is being distorted as many graduates cannot find jobs and when they do they often fill jobs in which they are over skilled thus pushing the poorest in society (another parallel to older people whoa re under employed. It is therefore important that both older and younger generations are seen to work together to support the universal service provision they both need.

Providing such things as transport and social services for all

This universal provision has been eroded and the division of society, between the poor and rich, between the educated and the not educated and between the old and young continues to grow at Europe’s peril.

The European Youth Forum recognises that it is often young people and old people that are the heavy users of public transport, it is often the young and old that need social services and again it is only through universality that these services can be fairly provided. The scourge that is ‘means testing’ is stigmatising and misses those on the edges and breaking down the principles of solidarity for all, slowly destroying the support that the young and old so often need in societies which are now more fragmented than ever.

Heath services and education remains key for young people. It remains a contradiction that jobs are no longer for life but our education systems are less flexible than before. Can people really develop, up skill and re-train if the option is only open for those that can afford to pay for fees for continuing education that was once free.

It should be recognised in this new world that education holds a wider social purpose. The ability for all to access educational services, which are not just focused on employability, but also the ability to grow as a person, are vital for  an ageing society.

The advancement of society must give us concern for Sustainable Development

If we take the concept of sustainable development to heart, as the youth forum does, we need to re-focus our debates on solidarity around all pillars of achieving economic equality, social mobility and environmental protection. Meeting the needs of today’s generations without damaging the chances of future generations.

This is why it is so interesting: the interesting idea, put forward at the UN Conference on Sustainable Development earlier this year and taken up by Ban Ki-Moon, to ensure that global governance incorporates the voices of the future and intergeneration generations.

All ages have been jilted by the past generation and whilst, political weight needs to be rebalanced to include the full participation of the younger present generation, if we are really going to further sustainable development then we need to incorporate commissioners and ombudspersons for future generations at all levels. The UNECE, already with Aarhus Convention on Sustainable Development participation mechanism could go on to develop a future generations governance mechanism. This would bind the present and future generations further together.

If we had had such governance or at least over sight previously then maybe we would have not been in the situation we are today. We could have avoided the pension crises where retirement ages are pushed higher and higher, not voluntarily, but because decent pensions cannot be secured for these who are close to retirement.

Decent Employment for all should not exclude decent retirement for the old

This slow destruction of the pension system has not led to more young people planning private savings, but to them giving up on their future. I know no young pension who feels that they will have a decent pension – the overwhelming feeling is that pension have been stolen from them by the old. This division cannot continue, the feeling that the rug has been pulled from underneath generations to come by the generation that has gone before increases and only action not words will stop this feeling. Action on pensions for young people is needed now.

It is vital that Europe resists the tendency to raise pension ages further or abolish compulsory pension ages (a laudable policy of the UN ECE ministerial conference) without putting proposer polices that will give all the confidence of their futures, otherwise all we see is our rights being taken away not enhanced

I return to “solidarity means sacrifice”. But what is sacrifice without the possibility of social advancement. Without a job, how can young people be expected to save for the future? When they are told to spend to help the economy now, how can they support themselves in the in years to come? These are wider economic questions and one answer is we need to move away from the short term-ism of the measure of GDP, include social welfare and savings such as those of natural resources or pensions in GDP measures to recognise the investment in the future.

Action is needed now, therefore the youth forum calls for a jobs pact for young people, to ensure that they are in employment, training or education, and in turn we recognise that young people now may have to pay for the transition. Providing dignity at work also means that people must make space for those to move up and move on. I don’t mean that early retirements should be a policy that we advance (there is no evidence, as we have heard, a in the benefit to the economy), but a social pact must also mean that people are enabled to move on with dignity and flexible pensions and work are required for this.

Young people should not be pitted against older workers and discriminatory measures such as the age related minimum wage don’t help but harm, keeping young in underemployment. Part-time work, people “retiring” slowly with pension payments supporting this helps knowledge transfer to younger generations and are some of the solutions that we could offer.

In Conclusion

Only by tackling some of the key issues, making sacrifices for the greater good, but also showing solidarity for those that are on the fringes of society that we can create truly create inter-generational solidarity. The autonomy of young people, allowing them to move away from the family and explore new ideas is vital for a progressive society. We should not expect young people to have to live with family when they tell us they want independence that equally goes for the old. Society should allow more flexible living. Young and old free to move, but in safety with the support that is needed for both, the freedom to learn and independence to earn without reliance on others. The slogan of the youth forum “For Youth Rights” could quite easily be “For Your Rights” providing, protecting and empowering all generations.

Talking of Youth Rights and Rights for Older people is basically the same things, its about rights against age discrimination and on this point lets be clear where and who is preventing progress on a rights based approach for the Young and Old, its not Latin America or Africa that have proposed this at the UN level and have their own age related conventions, is governments around the table here. European and Western Governments: you continue to prevent a convention on rights on age. If you take anything away take away this: no more words, but action, action based on rights and agree a convention, if we take away anything from this it should be that young and old should unite for a rights based approach and to get convention on our rights.

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