Young people in the future could rebel against the heavy financial burden of an ageing population, predicts a BBC docu-drama. And as baby boomers age, will pensioners become even more politically active?
By Sean Coughlan
BBC News Online
If today's youth are accused of political apathy, a future-gazing BBC docu-drama predicts that 20 years from now, young people could set up shadowy campaigns to fight against the expense of providing for older generations.
A force to be reckoned with
With a falling birth-rate, increased life expectancy and a shrinking number of working-age people to pay for the welfare state, there are set to be pressure points ahead.
But campaigners for elderly rights reject this projection of conflict between generations.
Age Concern last month published research which challenged the concept of a "demographic time bomb" as alarmist and misleading.
Instead the charity regards the real problem as the under-employment of older people, who are being squeezed out of the labour market. If more older people are able to work longer, it would provide the extra economic activity needed to fund the higher costs of an ageing population.
Of equal concern for the charity is the prospect of pensioner poverty, a view backed by the independent pensions research organisation, the Pensions Policy Institute.
The institute's research director, Chris Curry, says that in 2024 - when If... is set - the state pension will be worth about a third less than at present. This will mean that more old people than ever will depend on their own private pensions.
At present, a little over half of people of working age have their own pension - and among women, that proportion is just a quarter. This raises the prospect of a rich-poor divide among pensioners.
And with falling birth rates meaning fewer young people to man the nation's workforce, more older people will have to be recruited. Employers will need their skills - and the elderly will need the extra money.
The politics of old age could also be changing. Our aging population will be able to apply more pressure at the ballot box. This could be particularly the case for the baby boomers, the eldest of whom are approaching retirement age.
This generation, which was once young and swinging in the 1960s, are now facing their own 60s - and it is expected that they will retain their activism and political energy.
"Many of these people could be angry when they face such a drop in income when they retire," says Age Concern's Neil Churchill. "And they could start putting pressure on political parties to raise pensions. These people tended to be swing voters - and they could be very troublesome for politicians."
If... the Generations Fall Out imagines young v old
As well as pensions and rising council tax bills - both of which have sparked "grey power" protests, the cost of healthcare will also be a challenge to a society with more old people.
Journalist Rosie Boycott - herself a baby boomer - says her generation has no intention of growing old quietly.
"I don't want to give up that sense of being involved in things to do with change. I think we'll have an exciting old age. It will be something that will be rather thrilling, it will shake up a lot of governments."
If... the Generations Fall Out will be broadcast in the UK on BBC Two on Wednesday, 24 March, 2004 at 2100 GMT.