Photo by Thanasis Zovoilis

Do you want grandchildren?

The human consequences of an acrimonious debate

Artillery Row

As morally right, factual and urgent as young people’s grievances about housing may be, something isn’t making it through.

As if that weren’t bad enough, young people, you’re now set to be humiliatingly re-branded by the corporate press as “guppies”— “giving up on property”. Look. This is what they think of you.

That won’t do. How to turn this around? How about a change in targeting and messaging? Who needs to be won over, motivated, and what is the most concise way to make the point?

How about this: Oldies, do you want grandchildren?

Young people say it; old people hear it — as direct and strong as possible. Do you want grandchildren?

Isn’t this really what the housing crisis is about? It’s not about personal living standards or lazy, impatient, ungrateful, selfish, greedy younger generations. Some people get very grandiose (go for it) about civilisational continuation.

Newest Officer for National Statistics figures show that 2022 had the lowest birth rate since 2002. Almost a third of babies were born to mothers who themselves were not born in this country.

Oldies, do you even want a country?

If that’s the wrong kind of sentimental appeal, how about something more personal? How about uniting rather than splitting the old and the young? “Where your children are going to live” is good, but it’s just the beginning.

“Oldies, do you want grandchildren?” How does that hit you?

Let’s assume “yes”. What does all debate around house prices look like in this context?

Well, young people are the ones who have children. This also means that they need the resources to do it.

House prices, earnings, cost of living. These affect oldies, too, of course, but your problems are different. How house prices affect you will not affect whether you will get grandchildren.

Young people are the ones who have children and need the resources to do it.

Yes, yes, you paid in. Well, it was a Ponzi scheme

Children need the space to be happy and healthy. Their parents need to be able to afford somewhere to raise them. House prices keep going up. At £275,000, the average house is about 11 times the average salary of someone 22–29 years old, or nine times for someone 30–39. If the best possible mortgage goes up to around four times someone’s annual salary, the chances are that a first-time buyer (or pair of first-time buyers) is still looking to save well into six figures for a deposit.

You’ve doubtless seen one of the many articles about how it’s emphatically not just a matter of cutting down on Netflix and avocados on toast. Let’s not repeat that here.

The point is, oldies, do you want grandchildren?

They are going to have to have somewhere to live.

If you want grandchildren, you are going to have to revisit rather a few more issues.

Retirees, if you want grandchildren, your unhappiness over the state pension will have to reconcile with that. Come on, oldies. It’s a little rich now to let anomalous, one-off, government-driven public sector wage boosts drive a potential increase in the state pension.

Numbers can be revealing, even rough numbers. The government expects to spend about 28.7 per cent of its total budget on social care (that means your pension) and 20.6 per cent on health, in the 23/24 year. About two fifths of NHS spending is on those over 65 years old. Not counting everything else — defence spending, transport, the foreign office, etc. — about 37 per cent of all government spending is just for you. That’s pretty good considering the over-65s are about 18 per cent of the population. You’re getting double, not bad!

Yes, yes, you paid in. Well, it was a Ponzi scheme. Doesn’t everyone know by now that today’s taxes pay for today’s problems? That’s when government debt isn’t paying for them. Today’s taxes are bad enough. Are tomorrow’s not enough either?

The balance of who is paying in and getting something out is askew. More specifically, the balance of what resources are needed for and where they are going is askew.

That balance disfavours those who are in their late 30s and 40s, and 50s, rearing children, but also partially those in their 20s and early 30s, the prime childbearing ages. What is this age group really getting out of the tax system compared to the over-65s? What are they getting considering they need that money to have and raise children?

Is it any wonder populists are proving popular with younger people?

It costs a lot of money to raise a child. One estimate puts it at somewhere between £150,000 to £185,000, from birth to 18 years old. Is it possible that younger people need this money more than you? Do you want grandchildren?

Is it any wonder that parties and populists in other countries are proving popular with younger people as they promise to scrap their taxes? Think of Orban in Hungary, Le Pen in France. Statistically, oldie, you’re most likely to be a Conservative Party voter. What does this mean for the Conservative Party, if you care at all to save it?

The crossover from Labour to Conservative in the 2019 general election was 39 years old. Is it possible there’s more than just a financial reason for that? Do these people want to get married, settle down and have children — conservative things? Do you want these people to do that?

The Conservative Party is not doing very well in the polls. It needs to find more voters. Normally you’d expect to sway undecideds and centre ground voters. Are there “centre age voters” on the lower side of that 39-year-old crossover? What is the overlap between undecideds, centre grounders and 28–38-year-old voters? They’re some mix of sufficiently into adulthood, prime marriageable, childbearing and rearing age, and they’re not so young that they vote in tiny numbers.

It might take considerable reworking (abolition?) of the Conservative Party to do it, but it must be worth trying to offer something to this sort of centre ground voter. Compromise on age, at least, rather than principles. What do you want a government to do that is both in line with your principles and will help win over younger people? Do you want grandchildren? Perhaps that’s within your principles too. What overlap is there between actions the government should take and getting grandchildren?

Could this overlap have anything to do with making it easier for young people to get a house?

All of these and more could be topics for further discussion: supply and demand, tax, interest rates, planning regulations, immigration.

How do these issues look in the context of this question: Oldies, do you want grandchildren?

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