Labour and Lib Dem spokespeople have been competing on how best to insult young people struggling to pay for their own pensions this week.
Speaking at an Institute of Public Policy Research meeting, Pensions Minister James Purnell highlighted the fact that the number of young people saving for a pension has gone down in the past five years from 1-in-3 to 1-in-4. His explanation is simple:
“At the moment, young people are acting as if they expect to be able to fund a longer and longer retirement with less and less saving.”
“This research highlights the fact that there is a pressing need to help the young when it comes to financial understanding.
“All the signs point to a huge shift in the financial knowledge of young people now compared with their parents.
“The Government’s university tuition fees, high house prices and the aggressive marketing of credit are all contributing factors.
“Although there is some financial education and help for people when they are in difficulty, the focus should be on tackling this problem before it occurs.
“There should be a genuinely independent financial advice network to help people before financial hardship takes hold.”
To be fair on Vince, he does at least refer to contributing factors such as house prices and graduate debt, but he doesn’t propose doing anything about them – he magic bullet is simple more education. James Purnell doesn’t even go that far. His explanation are “Three Cs” – confidence, complexity and culture. All three may well be true, but that is to pretend that pensions are wholly divorced from everything else.
The reason a “live fast, die poor” culture has emerged is that credit and depending on parents is the norm for young people these days; it’s how you get on in life. Lecturing people about depending on too much credit is a little rich in a country where it is government policy to have every young person in hundreds of thousands of pounds of debt before they hit thirty.
And are we really expected to believe that the previous generation were any more careful with money than we are? Last time I looked, they spent their youth on drugs shagging anything that moved. The generation before, that grew up in the 1920s and lived through World War Two, certainly knew the meaning of saving for the future. I’ll take lectures from them, but not their profligate children.