There’s been a lot of chatter about the so-called ‘Generation Y’ recently.
The term describes the 18-33 demographic (those born in the 1980s onwards) that is allegedly more liberal, in the classical sense, than previous generations. The change is reflected in the increase in Tory affiliation, from 10% of those Gen Y folk polled in 1997 to 20% today.
Ipsos Mori pollster Bobby Duffy, who led the research, suggests “They believe people need to take greater personal responsibility rather than looking to the state – perhaps reflecting the fact that they have had less support themselves than other recent generations.”
I think that’s right. A welfare state depends on a spirit of trust and reciprocity existing between its recipients. ‘I owe it to pay him a pension because he subsidised my university tuition’ etc.
But what if your university tuition, or housing, or childcare costs, are no longer billed, in part, to someone else. You become less prepared to foot other people’s bills, right, especially groups like the unemployed who are unlikely to have been able to return the favour in the past, present or future.
It’s important to remember that the welfare state grew out of and was designed on a system of social insurance. You pay in, and you get out. That’s long since stopped being the reality, but what the polling represents, I think, is that the public’s understanding of welfare remains largely informed by the principle of insurance, not redistribution.