The growing signs of intergenerational conflict

Cat Tully writes: I hate to say “I told you so”. But in recent weeks I couldn’t help thinking back over my joint blog with youth advocate Raf Galdeano from Restless Development, published just before the British Brexit referendum in June 2016. The central issue we flagged has become ever more urgent since then. Young people are excluded from decision-making on the issues that will affect them.

From Brexit to climate change, the next generations will bear the consequences for decades to come, yet they are missing from decision-making processes. The average age of MPs, councillors and candidates in the UK is over 50.

Three-quarters of those who’ve come of voting age since 2016 would back Remain; 87% of those aged 18-29 back Remain. Yet the three-year old poll continues to be presented as being static and binding. As I argued before, “a key national asset (UK’s EU membership), valued highly by the younger population, is being squandered by the older generation.”

Intergenerational justice

Brexit and climate change are the latest, starkest, examples of how young people and future generations are excluded from decision-making on long-term issues. The issue of intergenerational justice is climbing the agenda.

In 2013, the UN called for intergenerational solidarity. SOIF is proud to be working with the Gulbenkian Foundation on a new global methodology to assess whether proposed government policies meet the test of intergenerational fairness. And philosopher Roman Krznaric has written for BBC Future about “the Seventh Generation Principle”.

We urgently need to hear the voices of those who will be most affected by these big, strategic, long-term decisions around the future of our country and our planet. They are exactly the decisions for which strategic foresight is designed. Ignoring the young is both morally wrong and politically inflammatory.

Pressure is building

On climate change and on Brexit, the pressure from younger generations is building. From Greta Thunberg to the global school strikes, from Extinction Rebellion (or XR) to the anti-Brexit youth movements Our Future, Our Choice and For Our Future’s Sake. These movements are the tip of an iceberg. There is a real risk of future intergenerational conflict over these issues.

Of course, energy and passion do not correspond to political influence. The impact of these groups’ doesn’t, yet, match their profile. However, we may be at a tipping point, if their campaigns can successfully create a voice for future generations.

Policy initiatives

There are some emerging examples of intergenerational justice being factored into policymaking. Finland was an early mover with its Committee for the Future. Wales has appointed a Future Generations Commissioner (Sophie Howe, who we heard from at our recent SOIF2019 retreat. A new All-Party Parliamentary Group for Future Generations was founded recently at Westminster.

These initiatives are all welcome. Governments can start by listening. But they need to do more. They need to find ways to bring young people’s voices into decision-making processes, through procedural and systems innovation, if we are to see policy that is genuinely ‘future-fit’.

Cat Tully is the Managing Director of SOIF. To find out more about our work on intergenerational futures, please contact her at Cat[at]

The image of the Berlin ‘Fridays for Future’ strike is by Leonherd Lenz, who has placed it in the public domain. The image of Great Thunberg (top right) is by Anders Hellberg, and is published here under a Creative Commons licence (CC BY-SA 4.0). Both are used with thanks.