Economic theory has often led to election campaigns that centre on the individual’s needs of the here and now. ‘Discounted utility’ assumes that immediate gratification is worth more than reward later. Maybe you’ve watched the video where a young child is left in a room with a marshmallow and told if they don’t eat it, they’ll get two marshmallows in 15 minutes. Unsurprisingly, many of the children choose the instant gratification over greater rewards in the long run.
This principle has comfortably found a place in election campaigns. The five year election cycle puts pressure on leaders to offer immediate rewards. Students are enticed with reduced tuition fees, young parents with child care subsidies or commuters with improved public transport. However, if we just focus on the next fix, long-term changes are easily overlooked. Instead, looking at the General Election through a lens of intergenerational justice can challenge us to consider something bigger than our own lives, or something with a longer shelf life than the next five years.
A classic Sunday school song teaches us the important truth found in Hebrews 13:8, that Jesus is the same ‘yesterday, today and forever’. Similarly, the seemingly dry Old Testament genealogies remind us that the God of Abraham is the same as the God of Isaac, Jacob and Joseph.
Leviticus 25 demonstrates God’s heart and provision for intergenerational justice. Those who fell on hard times in Israel’s society would have leased their land to others and entered into bonded labour (slavery). However, God offers a radical redemption. Once a generation, everyone returned to their own land. Those who had seemingly lost everything had their home, their community, their livelihoods restored.
In this we see something of God’s priorities for his children. The gospel is a story of Jesus making a way for his people to come home. Home is a place of security, community, family, livelihood, heritage, rest and belonging.
And yet, for the young people of today, home – a good place to live – is not guaranteed. It means something very different to the millennial generation than those before. Only 25 years ago, the average Brit lived 5 miles from the place they were born. Now, the average is 100 miles . This has implications for what community and belonging mean. The primary fear of young people in the UK is reportedly loneliness, with 48% of 18-24 year olds saying they often feel lonely compared to the overall average of 34% . In 2014, the UK was dubbed the ‘loneliness capital of Europe’ .
Home should also be a place of security. However, insecure housing is a rising concern for younger generations. Four out of every ten 30 year olds live in private rented accommodation, in contrast to one in ten 50 years ago . This alters the potential for home to be a secure place of rest for young people. Current legislation allows landlords in England to evict tenants without cause, giving tenants weak bargaining power in asking their landlords to ensure the conditions are liveable. The government is currently conducting a review into this law. It could be an important topic of scrutiny for potential MPs and parties, and it is important this law is not lost during the transition to a new parliament.
Our understanding of home also goes beyond the four walls of a house. The environment in which we live is hugely important. For future generations, ecological and climate breakdown is a major concern. In September 2019, up to 350, 000 young people and supporters in the UK were striking against the insufficient action taken to prevent a climate crisis. The IPCC finds that to prevent global heating of over 1.5°C global anthropogenic CO2 emissions need to decline by 45% from 2010 levels by 2030. The next government will take us up to half way through this timeframe. The difference between 1.5°C and 2°C will reduce the number of people susceptible to climate-risks and poverty by several hundred million.
These issues reflect the long-term concerns for younger and future generations. It is paramount to recognise that this is not an “us vs. them” issue, nor is it universal. Intergenerational justice is not about the divide between baby boomers and millennials – it’s about the ways in which inequalities are inherited and exacerbated throughout generations. Both the impacts of the housing and climate crisis are deeply skewed based on the socio-economic background a child is born into.
As we head to the polling station on the 12th December, we should consider the needs around us now. But we also need to consider the needs of future generations. As you Love, Pray, Vote this election season, why not take some time to reflect on what society we want our children, our grandchildren and even our great-grandchildren to be able to live in.