Reading the scope of the DWP Select Committee’s new enquiry into intergenerational fairness had me grasping for my video copy of the Meaning of Life.
The inquiry aims to answer the question of whether the current generation of people in or approaching retirement will over the course of their lifetimes have enjoyed and accumulated much more housing and financial wealth, public service usage, and welfare and pension entitlements than more recent generations can hope to receive.
Questions the Committee is looking to address include:
What has been the collective impact on different generations of policies in recent years, including welfare reform and deficit reduction with areas of protected spending?
To what extent is intergenerational fairness a welfare issue?
What effects are these changes projected to have over time? Are they sustainable? What have the long-term trends been?
How does the welfare system interact with other areas of public expenditure and income and wealth in the wider economy, including issues of health, education and housing
Is the triple-lock necessary to prevent future increases in pensioner poverty?
Certainly one for Frank Field’s philosophical bent!
Apart from providing an essay list for politics teachers, can such a wide ranging enquiry have any useful purpose. Would the Committee be more engaged in working out how to Equalize GMPs or re-establish pension credits?
But then you realize these are the very issues that the WASPI women are asking, and with some cogency. “Are our generation getting their fair shares” is a question that will very rarely get a positive answer.
The other man’s grass is always greener and the sun shines brighter on the other side.
Let’s hope that Frank Field really does lead this work. I can remember being astounded when I met him in the late 90’s. He was a figure like no other, aloof and independent from any lobby, neither an academic or quite a politician, more a moral beacon.
Morality is not something we hear much about in politics. I suspect that Field and Webb, both strong Christians – represent a certain traditional view of fairness – one more grounded in the benevolent paternalism of liberalism than fire-brand socialism.
There is another brand, more humanistic and more conservative, into which I place consumerists like our present Pension Minister and Paul Lewis. The humanistic approach to fairness is based around opportunity and is – at heart – a Thatcherite approach. The liberal paternalist tradition harks back to a gentler age for whom the catchphrase was “the poor are always with us”.
I suspect that the underlying principle that drives Frank Field is that people must strive to be self sufficient while the State must ensure that if they fail, there is a safety net. Such a view embraces compulsory activities such as paying tax and providing insurance for dependents to a point where an individual is able to say he or she is no longer a burden on the next generation. But by the same philosophy, the Field/Webb approach accepts that those who fail – need to be bailed out by those who don’t. This is what I mean by benevolent paternalism. It is the culture that I was brought up in.
For the humanists, Paul Lewis is publicly an atheist, I cannot speak for Ros Altmann’s private religious views but see her driven by personal endeavour, the view of fairness is less communal and more opportunistic, it is fair to give people the opportunity, it is not fair to reward failure.
These deep-rooted differences in value systems emerge in conversation. I sense that I know where Field and Webb come from (in that it is where I came from). I can understand the position of Altmann and Lewis but it is not mine. I admire both positions in perhaps an over liberally way – simply because I don’t have absolute conviction (oh the perils of the post-modern dialectic).
Understanding that there are different views out there, is important to understanding the debate that the DWP will have. I don’t think that Frank Field’s answer will be accepted by a fundamentally Thatcherite minister ; if I was Ros Altmann I would be rolling my eyes and muttering “here we go again”. If I was Frank Field, I would be rolling up my sleeves yet again to rehearse the same arguments he has been making since he first came into the public eye ( a long time ago).
If this simply becomes a private debate within parliament, I can’t see much point in this new enquiry, but if it sparks a public debate that continues in the spirit of WASPI to call into question the role of the state and how it interacts with its citizens, I see this enquiry as very helpful indeed.
We’ll have to see whether it does indeed engage the public, It has engaged me, but that is not quite the same!