There is a strange contradiction in the public debate when talking about the young generations. On one hand, the future of the entire Finnish welfare state is seen as the responsibility of the younger generations. As part of an ever-diminishing number of working-age people, we need to keep the cogs of the welfare state running and use our fantastic innovations to solve the challenges in our society, from robotization to climate change.
On the other hand, if we were to believe the news, it would seem that we are not doing a very good job. You can read in the newspapers almost every week about how young people are not studying the right subjects or graduating fast enough, how they are not interested in working life, or having enough children, and how they are turning into marginalized loners who just play on their computers in the dark all day. Tuija Siltamäki was one of the writers to successfully address these contradictory wishes and requirements in her recent column on the Yle website.
Young people are also made to feel guilty about how their wishes and needs are not being reflected in political decision-making. After each election, people show indignation over the low voting percentage of young people, and every year, there is a report about how young people are not involved in party politics. When the social activism of young people is mentioned in the news, it is often belittled and referred to as “internet activism”, or as being hypersensitive and taking offense to everything.
Why are young people not getting their voice heard?
In Finland, young people’s knowledge about society is among the best in the world, so it is not that we do not know enough about politics. Young people have been actively involved in campaigns promoting issues such as an equal marriage act and free upper secondary education. Young people also do more volunteer work than before.
Instead, young people’s belief in the current political system and its results has been shaken. But can we really be blamed for it? For example, I cannot help thinking of how growing up and becoming an adult amid the long economic crisis has affected my generation. This has affected us in ways that we probably are not even aware of.
Me and my peers are now 24 years old. We have built our self-image and future dreams during a financially insecure time. This is not completely unprecedented, but what makes the situation exceptional is the fact that for the first time, the income growth of young people is lower than their parents. This is all happening during a time when the main message of major social influencers has been, “It is bad today, and it will still be bad tomorrow.” What kind of an impact does a message like that have? Add to this the talk about the transformation, fragmentation and spread of work into all aspects of life, and we have ourselves quite a mess. As the uncertainty grows, and especially if it is further fuelled, concerns about the situation of the society turn towards our own coping and well-being.
All this uncertainty can already be seen in the values of young people. That is why we have little faith in getting our voice heard in political decision-making. This concern is justified, in part. When looking at the number of people eligible to vote in Finland, those aged over 65 years outnumber those who are under 35 years of age – and it really shows. For instance, the Finnish Parliament has one MP born in the 1990s, whereas the number of MPs born in the 1940s is fifteen. The power in our society accumulates to the older generations, both in decision-making bodies and within political parties.
The theme of intergenerational equity has been brought up in the public debate mostly when politicians try to justify the cuts they have made by saying that we should not leave public debt to the future generations. What really makes this grotesque is that the state’s finances are balanced by taking money from the young generations here and now. The working conditions of young people have been weakened, students’ social security has been cut, and the record-high private debt is increasing all the time. Future generations are left with pension debt, competence debt and ecological debt.
Who has the strength to carry all this on their shoulders on their own, if our society cannot do it collectively?
How to make intergenerational politics more equal?
It is important to broaden the way we talk about intergenerational equity and start to systematically assess the impact of political decisions on different generations. We must stop putting down young people in the media and support means that can be used to make them participate in shared decision-making. We, as a society, must see investing in the young generations as good future policy and as an investment in the future. We need politics that says STOP to fearmongering and inciting uncertainty, and says OH YES to the strengthening of people’s sense of security and capacity, firmly but gently.
Young people deserve better! It is time to talk about intergenerational equity. In the coming weeks, SYL’s blog and social media channels will feature our thoughts on issues such as pensions, education, climate change, the transformation of work, and the reform of the social security system from the point of view of intergenerational equity. In other words: now is the perfect time to start following SYL on social media and take part in the discussion with the hashtag #sukupolvipolitiikka #generationalpolitics. We will publish our themes for the upcoming parliamentary elections at SuomiAreena in July. These are the common solutions of the university student movement for fairer intergenerational politics.