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How should families protect themselves under the new Bereavement Benefits system?

February 23, 2017

From April 2017 the Government is changing the rules on bereavement support for new claimants. 

Existing ones will carry on under the previous regime. Under the old system there were three benefits. These are now combined into one “bereavement support payment”.

First there was a lump sum of £2,000 provided that you were under pension age and your spouse, or civil partner, had paid NI contributions on earnings equal to 25 times the lower earnings limit in any one year.

Although if they died as a result of an industrial accident then that was not required. Under the new system a family without children will get £2,500 and one with children will get £3,500.

This is a significant improvement although it is still below the cost of many funerals. And of course, it does not contribute towards any debts, such as paying off a mortgage. Life and critical illness insurance remains essential cover for such circumstances. It may however reduce the amount of basic cover needed under low-cost funeral plans.

Second there was bereavement allowance for those with no children. It was only payable if you were 45 years old, or older and was payable for 52 weeks.

The amount you got was dependent on the amount your partner had paid into the state pension and also on your age. It was taxable and offset against any contributory benefits you might be entitled to, for example contributory based JSA. At 45 you could get up to £33.77 a week but you would then have your JSA reduced by that amount.

Under the new system you would get £100 per month payable for 18 months and it is not taxable or offset against contributory benefits. So overall, another improvement on the current situation.

Finally we move to the sting in the tail, widowed parents allowance (for those with children).

This was payable if you had dependent children or your partner was pregnant until children ceased to be dependent. The amount was based on your partner’s contributions to the state pension up to an amount of £112.55 a week. It was taxable but you would be entitled to child tax credits.

As with bereavement allowance it would be offset against other contributory benefits. Under the new system, it is £350 per month and is payable in full if your partner has paid NI contributions for a full year. It is not taxed and not offset against other benefits. However it is only payable for 18 months. For families with children this is a very significant reduction in state support.

So what should families do to protect themselves under the new arrangements? The solution is family income benefit insurance.

This insurance currently has a tiny market. It pays out for the term of the policy based on the income of the deceased partner. For two income households it is essential to purchase a policy that covers each life individually.

The interactions with universal credit mean that, assuming the surviving partner continues to work, such a family will have little or no entitlement to benefit after the 18 month period.

I think the changes offer an opportunity for increased sales and innovation in the family income benefit market.

The abolition of support for families after 18 months means that serious consideration should be given to making FIB a rider to life/CI insurance sold as a standard part of protecting your family, rather than as a stand- alone niche product. Costs should also be low.

Even as a stand-alone product is it usually cheaper than term life.

Written by Richard Walsh, SAMI Fellow and first published in Cover magazine, January 2017

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Cities Outlook 2017: Brexit and devolution

February 16, 2017

The Centre for Cities, a research and policy institute aiming to improve the economic success of UK cities, has just published its 10th annual analysis of economic data for the UK’s 63 largest towns and cities. To mark the occasion they held a briefing session and discussion at London’s City Hall.

Their Cities Factbook provides a wealth of data on the characteristics of places as different as Worthing, Belfast, Sunderland and London. An invaluable resource for researchers in the field. The accompanying Cities Outlook report includes 18 tables of comparative analysis of the towns and cities, covering areas such as employment rates (highest, Crawley), wages (London), inequality (most unequal, Oxford and Cambridge) and CO2 emissions per capita (lowest, Chatham).

Perhaps more interestingly, the report also looks at the geography of exports in the run-up to Brexit. It reports on particular issues facing ‘one-company towns’ in the UK – the most extreme being Sunderland.  The destination of exports is also analysed – 70% of Exeter’s exports go to the EU, while 46% of Hull’s go to the USA. The EU is the largest export market for almost every city, 46% of all cities’ exports are sent there. There is a divide between services and goods exports -with many goods coming from the North, and services from the South.

The election of six new metro mayors in 2017 represents a new level of devolution that could address the apparent disconnect from government apparently felt by many. The new mayors’ powers (although not all the same) should enable them to tackle the particular challenges and opportunities in their areas. The leads on to advocating a “place-based” industrial strategy.

The discussion session was opened by Stephanie Flanders, ex-BBC economics editor, Chief Market Strategist at JP Morgan and Chair of the RSA Inclusive Growth Commission. She also reviewed the relationship between productivity and place and the fact that regional variations meant a need for a granular strategy. She also opened up the issue of “place-based” budgets as a way of improving the efficiency of local spending.

Marvin Rees, Mayor of Bristol, extended the debate to cover the diversity of cities, highlighting the number of languages spoken in Bristol. He is also a member of the Global Parliament of Mayors, and is very active in bringing UK city leaders together to lobby for common causes – control over local budgets being high on the list. He highlighted the dilemma that arguing for a particular city’s needs tends to be sub-scale, while bringing them together risks division in what can be seen as a zero-sum budgeting game.

Martin Reeves Interim Chief Executive, West Midlands Combined Authority made similar points about the opportunity of a “place-based” industrial strategy and was looking forward to the opportunities offered by devolution.

In the Q&A that followed there was much discussion of local finance, either through regional banks, municipal bonds or local tax-raising powers (eg business rates). It was felt that SMEs in particular were getting a poor service from the finance sector. Marvin and Martin were (unsurprisingly) keen, as is Sadiq Khan, on local tax-raising powers, but Stephanie Flanders argued only for local spending powers on the grounds that some cities would not be able to raise as much as others.

The relationship with Brexit was also a major concern, requiring close communication between Government and the cities. Marvin said that, immediately after the vote, Bristol set up a working party to identify the local implications and submitted a detailed paper to Liam Fox – but they have yet to get a reply.

The issue of “post-code lottery” emerging from “place-based” spending plans didn’t come up – but must surely be of concern to many. The technological challenges of AI and robotics will also affect cities differently, and should be high on mayors’ list of issues to address.

Written by Huw Williams, SAMI Principal.

The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily of SAMI Consulting.

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Brexit – May We Live In Interesting Times

February 8, 2017

The Times they are a’changing….

In my blog of 30 November, “Hard Brexit – Evolving Scenarios for Brexit

I identified three distinct key drivers of uncertainty:

  1. The way events play out in the UK – the debates between “hard” and “soft” Brexiteers, and the outcome of litigation over the role of Parliament in invoking Article 50, and the state of the UK economy and economic confidence
  2. Events in Europe – debates between those in favour of compromise and those unwilling to make concessions, influenced by political and economic developments within the EU
  3. External events – in the USA, Russia and elsewhere, and in the global economy and global trade

Subsequent events have highlighted the degree of uncertainty. Whilst the UK Government has clarified to some extent its aspirations for the post-Brexit UK, and the UK Parliament seems set to approve the invocation of Article 50, thus beginning the formal process of Brexit, developments elsewhere have muddied the waters.

Brexit, USA

The arrival of President Trump has marked a huge shift in the US Government’s attitude to Europe. For many decades, the USA has encouraged and supported the development of the EU. President Obama warned that post-Brexit Britain would be “at the back of the queue” for a trade deal with the USA, and he pursued the TTIP trade agreement with the EU. By contrast President Trump has praised the UK referendum vote to leave the EU – calling it “so smart” – whilst criticising what he sees as the German domination of the EU, and musing on the likelihood of its breaking up in the near future.

President Trump’s “America First” line on trade, and hostility to the EU contrasted with the emollient tone struck by UK Prime Minister Theresa May in her speeches at Lancaster House and Davos last month.

A View from the Med

On 26 January, I attended a seminar arranged by Macrogeo Consulting and the Italian Embassy in London on “The Future of Europe post-Brexit and post-Trump”. The speakers were very much part of the Italian Establishment, including the Ambassador himself, and former Prime Minister and EU Commissioner, Mario Monti. The view expressed was surprising, and exemplified the extent to which Brexit is taking place in a rapidly-changing world.

The argument presented was that the EU is facing stresses and challenges that cast doubt on its continued existence – at least in its current form. The challenges include:

  • Failed states, beset by war and terrorism at Europe’s eastern and southern borders
  • Surging population growth in Africa – with an average age less than half the EU’s
  • The vulnerability of poor and failed states to even modest climate change
  • The prospect of mass migration triggered by all three of the above factors
  • The rise of Russia and Turkey as disruptive influences on the EU’s eastern borders
  • The advent of a protectionist and Eurosceptic US Administration
  • The internal economic stresses within the EU, with the debtor countries mired in recession, whilst Germany runs a current account surplus with its neighbours

The view presented by Macrogeo was that by the next Electoral Cycle (ie 2021-22) the EU will be in its death throes. They saw the possibility of a new core, with Germany at its centre, accompanied by the countries of Northern Europe (including Scandinavia and the Baltic countries) and most of the former Warsaw Pact countries, and probably France. They foresaw the other EU countries (including Italy, Greece, Spain and Portugal) forming an outer circle, outside the single currency, but within the single market; and “European Common Space” beyond that, including the UK, Ukraine, Turkey and other non-EU member states.

They posited four possible scenarios for the core, as set out below ranging from a Transfer Union (implying full fiscal and political integration), or a Customs Union, as now, to a loose confederation of sovereign nation states, or a German-dominated Union.


What was clear from this was that they did not see Brexit in terms of the UK departing from a durable and stable union. Rather, they saw Brexit playing out as part of a transformation in the EU, driven both by external pressures and internal imbalances that will at best lead to a realignment, and at worst to an anarchic break-up.

What does this mean for Brexit? We will have to see: but it is clear that at least some key European players are thinking about the strategic challenges and options for the EU itself. Their response to Brexit will – to some extent be influenced by their view of the EU’s best response to its own challenges. For example a hostile America and Russia may make an amicable settlement with the UK more desirable. Whilst the pressures of inward migration from Europe’s eastern and southern borders may drive the EU to press hard for open borders or may cause fragmentation within the EU as it seeks to negotiate a mutually acceptable deal.

The uncertainty will continue, as will the need to think flexibly about future scenarios. And events, especially in these interesting times, will continue to change the landscape even as the game plays out.

Written by David Lye, SAMI Fellow

The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily of SAMI Consulting.

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A fairer way to fund long-term care

February 1, 2017

For many years we have been anticipating a crisis in social care funding. Successive Governments have looked at the issue and then stepped back from any decision in the hope that we can muddle through.

Last week’s decision to encourage councils to increase council tax to put more money in the system means we have finally reached a “tipping point”. But is this really the right way to address the problem?

Council tax has moved from being a low level tax with significant central funding to one which, increasingly, is actually a local tax which many families find is a significant amount and is set in and extremely regressive way.

This is because it is based on a proxy for asset value which does not differentiate between those who actually hold the assets (home owners and landlords) and what tenants pay is based on the proxy value of a house which they do not own. In addition, support for those on low incomes has reduced.

The Money Advice Trust’s Stop The Knock campaign revealed that 1.27m debts were passed to bailiffs by local authorities in 2014/15 for council tax arrears, an increase of 16% over a two-year period. Since 2013, most English councils have introduced minimum payments for people who were previously exempt.

On average, these families are required to pay £171 in council tax per year. Hundreds of thousands of people have ended up in court, forced to pay £150 in fees and administrative costs, causing the debt to spiral.

Council tax is one of the few debts where failure to pay can result in imprisonment. Without a root and branch reform of local taxation to make it more clearly related to capital and income, increasing council tax is possibly the worst way of getting more money in the system for social care.

So what should the Government have done? It depends on what you are trying to achieve. One option would have been to return to their Manifesto commitment to introduce the Dilnot recommendations.

The Government proposed a much higher upper limit of £118,000 to allow more generous treatment of the assets held in the home and a higher savings limit.

In addition there is the cap (excluding living costs) of £72,000 such that once this cap is reached no further costs. except living costs, would be incurred. The Government shelved this because of costs but the decision on council tax shows that they accept the need for more resources.

The problem with the Dilnot recommendations is that they only result in more money in the system if individuals save, or insure themselves, such that they have more resources than they would have done if they hadn’t saved or insured. Any why would they do that if it is offset £ for £ through the way means testing operates.

Also last week, a new ILC report “Means Testing Social Care in England” by Professor Les Mayhew, suggests some possible solutions to the conundrums of inequality of treatment between assets and income and encouraging savings for long term care.

The report takes the view that it is a general principle that income and assets should serve a common purpose and be regarded as interchangeable as far as paying for care is concerned. And that a system of financial support in which assets receive more favourable treatment than income will tend to favour those whose wealth is skewed towards assets.

Not only is this unfair, but it will increase the effect of people seeking to gain an advantage on the State by shifting wealth between income and assets.

Without going into the detail of the calculations, let’s take three individuals.

Under his preferred solution if person A has £66,667 of savings and £5,000 income; or Person B, with £50,000 of savings and £10,000 income; or Person C with £33,333 of savings and £15,000 each of them can afford 3.33 years of care and each therefore receives the same level of support from the State, (i.e. £8,333).

Yet under the Dilnot solution, the levels of support would change. A receives £9,669, B receives £8,136 and C, who has fewer savings than either A or B, gets only £6,603. So having more wealth in assets than in income becomes advantageous.

The asymmetric treatment of people with the same ability to pay for a given package of care creates an anomaly if we are seeking to introduce a system which strikes a fair balance between individuals of similar means faced with the same care costs.

Beyond that, while the means test offers an important safety net, it deters people from saving for care, and so potentially crowds out new sources of finance.

To address this the report calls for incentives to set aside money for care in the knowledge that it would not be simply taken away by an equivalent reduction in State support on a £ for £ basis.

The report is sceptical about insurance solutions, but I can see that a kind of critical illness product with a lump sum payout could have an element of the payout disregarded for means testing on admission to a defined level of care in a similar way to the disregards on savings that are contained in the report.

The Mayhew report is a valuable contribution to the debate on the future funding of long-term care and the current “quick fix” of rising council tax is unfair and regressive.

I think the report is also very interesting in thinking about the broader issue of what would be a fair way of setting what is now becoming a local tax without central funding; with a fairer balance between those who actually hold assets (and their actual value) and levels of income.

Written by Richard Walsh, SAMI Fellow and first published in Cover magazine, December 2016. 

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Diagnosing and Future Proofing Governance and Risk Management Issues

January 25, 2017

The CRSA Forum exists to share and improve understanding on the people aspects of governance and risk management. It met in December 2016 to consider why corporate governance and risk management have failed to prevent frauds and financial crises.

Peter Bebb of Perendie began by reminding us of recent corporate collapses and corporate wrong doing including mis-selling, fraud, rogue trading, poor controls over corporate assets resulting in security beaches and loss of physical assets and oil spills, and failure of care in the NHS and the reputation damage resulting from these incidents.

Corporate governance and risk management don’t take human factors, such as incentives and how we make decisions, into account. Governance and risk management reports were seen as backward looking and obscured by detail. They don’t support decision-making, tell you whether rules are being followed or are likely to be followed or how the organisation will perform in future.

Causes of failure of governance

In small groups we reflected on the causes and Tweeted our opinions of the causes of failure. We then voted on which were the most important.

  1. Recognising & agreeing risk plus complexity of risk
  2. Personal interest and lack of personal responsibility on individual board members
  3. Lack of transparency or ethics
  4. Lack of appropriate personal responsibility (Most important)
  5. Short term targets, over long term culture (3rd choice)
  6. Poor ethics and accountability at the top
  7. Board clarity & accountability
  8. Governance is very challenging in an ever changing world
  9. lack of protection of whistleblower, rule breakers don’t often lose out (2nd choice)
  10. Not just the rules, culture too

One group talked about the need for individual and shared responsibility within an organisation and how their lack has contributed to governance failures. Organisation should be set up so that individuals are treated as responsible adults where relationships are built on trust rather than control.

Areas for action

We Tweeted our suggestions for action and then voted on which were most important. These were:

  1. Culture and values (Most important)
  2. Clarity of purpose, enabling appropriate behaviour (3rd choice)
  3. Individuals understanding what is expected
  4. Recognising & agreeing risk plus complexity of risk
  5. Create an international body who is able to hold the board to account
  6. Accountability & audit design
  7. Culture change – incentivise not penalise (2nd choice)

Gill Ringland, CEO of SAMI Consulting, led the meeting in exploring the future role and challenges for governance and risk management using four scenarios for 2040.

sami-crsaThe ‘Second Hand’ scenario is the most similar to today and has developed as a result of the changes above without any significant disruption or systemic change. In ‘Globalisation‘ the main change would be the increased importance of virtual (web based) connections with less significance given to geographical place. In ‘City Societies‘ cities become wealth clusters or brands, nation states fail and democracy, capitalism and western values compete with other organising concepts within different cities. In ‘Affinity Groups’ society has re-formed around affinity groups; multiple value systems are accommodated in a single geography. In this scenario, London could become 20 or 30 ethnically diverse clusters, all globally linked more strongly than their local interactions.

We considered the scenarios in groups. The Globalisation group considered that virtual working would mean more isolation. Traditional management and governance controls may not work if people did not know what others were doing creating problems with lack of accountability and responsibility. Alternatively virtual working could make it easier for corporations to control staff, with unseen but all seeing eyes knowing where staff are and what they are doing.

In the Affinity Groups scenario groupings could form around common languages, corporations and conceivably intelligence as in Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. Current concepts of control and responsibility may no longer be needed if people share a common purpose and culture, e.g. the current issue of formal incentives incentivising the wrong behaviours could be less if people have a common framework. However there could be rivalries e.g, between all powerful big corporations (as one Affinity Group) and other groups.

A newspaper headline in City Societies might read ‘London’s per head wealth 10 times that of Birmingham’ – there are winner and loser cities. International affinity groups, including corporations, would be more powerful. Staff in corporations would have different cultures in different cities or they may try to impose a common culture across all the cities where they have staff. There would need to be trade agreements between cities and some commonality in the legal systems. Cities would have good internal controls but there could be chaos externally. The more successful global cities might negotiate common frameworks benefitting all cities or they may benefit only themselves with other cities ultimately disintegrating or being taken over by other cities. Some cities may create armies to expand by conquest. Others would expand by succeeding in the market place.

People felt that a combination of City Societies and Affinity Groups could be quite likely.

So what should we do today? The future is unknowable but consideration of these scenarios could help us understand the world as it changes and spot what is happening earlier. The view of the room was to have capitalism with social responsibility and a shared sense of values and ethics. We should all try to view companies and the systems within which they operate from other perspectives looking down as if from a helicopter or observing it from distant vantage points, or from the eyes of different stakeholders. We should focus on purpose but beware people whose purpose is not socially benign.

Some conclusions

·       Globalisation, in some form, seems likely to continue in all four scenarios.

·       Governance will need to embrace technology.

·       In City Societies there must be accountability for leaders and transparency for cities and organisations.

·       The importance of culture in governance is emphasised by Affinity Groups, governance structures need to reflect the values of diverse cultures.


  1. Gill Ringland’s PowerPoint slides can be downloaded here
  2. Peter Bebb’s PowerPoint slides can be downloaded here
  3. Slides showing participants Tweets and priorities here
  4. More information about the CRSA Forum can be found at
  5. Join the CRSA Forum Linked In Group here
  6. For further information or if you would like to attend future meetings contact
  7. The next meeting will be on Board Oversight of Risk

Written by Paul Moxey, SAMI Fellow.

The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily of SAMI Consulting.

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What a month for welfare reform and income protection

January 18, 2017

The world is changing. 70% of long-term absences are amongst employees of small or medium enterprises with 43% being people who work for employers with fewer than 50 staff; 60% of absences are accounted for by women and 57% of absences are amongst people under the age of 50.

And savings for a rainy day are very low. The latest MAS research (September 2016) found over 16 million people have savings under £100. Clearly income protection insurance (IP) and the welfare state are the only show in town for the vast majority of the UK population who are too ill to work.

But IP coverage is small. If you combine IP bought by individuals and employers for their employees there are about 3 million people covered.

By way of comparison, the Sergeant Review of Simple Products noted that a further 23.5 million adults could potentially benefit from Income Protection.

But IP is not just about financial support. Legal and General, has published statistics on those who returned to work in cases where early intervention rehabilitation was provided: 78% of all notified GIP claimants returned to work before the end of the deferred period and 83% did so within the first year of absence.

These figures are replicated for mental health and musculoskeletal claimants. Research shows that there is a £16.80 saving for every £1 spent with rehabilitation on group scheme claimants.

Meanwhile, welfare state provision is being scaled back. Currently, under Universal Credit, owner-occupiers with a mortgage must wait for a qualifying period of 9 months before they are entitled to any support for their mortgage payments.

In addition, no help is available if you (or your partner) have any earned income. This is in contrast with other elements of UC, where the intention is to make working worthwhile.

In the summer budget of 2015, the Government announced that, from April 2018, payments towards mortgage interest will be turned into a loan from the Government.

The loan will have to be repaid when the house is sold or on return to work. This policy remains unchanged following the Autumn Statement. As for generation rent, there are housing benefit restrictions which are set locally based on lower end rental costs.

These were also to have been capped from 2018 but this has now been postponed until 2019. Finally, Universal Credit deducts IP bought by individuals on a £ for £ basis – including any provision for mortgages and rent even if that money were to be paid direct to the creditor.

This is unlike the situation for “earned income” where the taper will be improved from 65p/£ to 63p/£ from next year. A key aim of our report is to encourage a debate on the future of the interaction between IP and welfare benefits.

Green paper vs Autumn Statement

It was very encouraging that the day after our launch the DWP and DH launched their joint Green Paper on work, health and disability.

In it they set out their vision for the future. Four of the six elements of the vision complement our report very well. When an individual is in work they should have jobs that actively support and nurture health and wellbeing.

If at risk of long-term sickness absence they should encounter early action to stay in, or return to work. If out of work due to health or disability they should encounter the right support to secure work.

And if an individual is unable to work they should have access to rapid financial support.

Two publications well aligned. What could possibly go wrong?

We found out in the Autumn statement on salary sacrifice. Gym membership and Group income protection (GIP) bought by choice through employers is to be taxed.

Given this decision has been made now – bang in the middle of the Green Paper consultation process – indicates that the old problem of lack of joined up Government is as persistent as ever.

So what next? In my view the focus of discussion needs to focus on IP and what happens at claims stage on interaction with state benefits.

If we can show that change could be made a no cost to Government to encourage, rather than penalise, individuals for supporting themselves I still remain optimistic that we can make progress.

In addition, IP has a much greater chance of rapid growth with changing employment patterns towards more people in small companies that have less interest in GIP and the end of the “job for life” – as it is portable from one job to the next.

We will need to engage with a wide range of stakeholders during the Green Paper consultation period including across Government departments.

As for lobbying for tax relief, the Autumn Statement shows that this is a non-starter.

And worse still, for those who support auto-enrolment for GIP, it is difficult to see the case for an opt-out system for a taxed benefit.

Suddenly the difference between the treatment of pensions and GIP has become much more stark.

Written by Richard Walsh, SAMI Fellow and first published in Cover magazine, November 2016. Also co-author, with Alan Woods, of a report for the CII – “Building Resilient Households – the future of financial provision for those too ill to work”.

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Expect even stranger events in 2017: why citizenship is (nearly) dead.

January 11, 2017

The impact of globalisation; the rise of ‘false facts’ and of ‘click-journalism’; the widening gap between richest and poorest; the simple desire to give politicians a kicking: all of these have been identified as likely causes for the rise of populism and its most obvious manifestations in the UK EU referendum result and, in the US, the election of Donald Trump. Few doubt that there will be more manifestations of these trends in 2017. These are plausible causes, but the true drivers of change that sit behind them are ill-understood and barely-discussed. It is the job of strategists to help political and business leaders to understand what is happening and to formulate plans to make resilient and better futures.

We need to understand two drivers of change in particular if we are to grasp what is happening right now.

Driver 1: Generational conflict

Goodness knows that we strategists have been formulating scenarios for decades that anticipate a ‘generational war’ with younger people fighting older people for scarce physical and social resources as lifespans lengthen. Yet we hardly seem to have noticed that the war is well underway, or how one-sided it is. In developed countries older people have almost all of the financial and political power. This is not to suggest that all older people have all the power – indeed, a relatively small minority have it, but it is in that generational group where it rests, so much so that under-35s are struggling to be heard. Property is in the hands of the old, student debt is mounting, older people have pensions and they are staying longer in the jobs they already occupy to pay for their pensions. Younger people are often self-employed and are proving to be poor employers of themselves, unable to give themselves enough hours to work and often in the grip of ‘zero hours’ contracts. Older people vote in proportionately larger numbers than the young and make sure that politicians are duly afraid of their voting power.

‘We know all this, it’s hardly new’ I hear you say. Well, yes, but what are we doing about it? Do we understand how much of a problem this imbalance, both economically and politically, is? If younger people feel they have little stake in the societies of which they are members then they will begin to behave in ways that are careless of the future of those societies. Can we imagine what that looks like? We may be about to see…

Driver 2: Social atomisation

This, again, is a driver of change that we have often explored in scenario-planning processes. But, again, we seem to have barely noticed how comprehensively atomisation has taken place. The neo-liberal period which has been dominant since the early 1980s was always intended to promote individualism and corporate power over state power or other forms of social organisation. What was less foreseeable in the early 1980s was the impact of technology and, in particular, of the internet on social atomisation. It is not simply that people form communities using social media in preference to more conventional forms of combination, it is the increasing commoditisation of social discourse which is having the biggest impact. Almost everything that once required a meeting, a commitment of time and often of negotiation can now be dealt with in a transaction in a couple of clicks. This brings great advantages. But it also turns us all into customers, with the expectations and minimal obligations of customers. What, one might ask, is a citizen in this on-line world?

 The destruction of citizenship

The combinatorial effect of these two drivers on current trends is to destroy notions of citizenship as they have been conventionally understood for generations. Older people hope to live for decades more: their sense of obligation to younger people is limited by this belief, and by the general human reluctance to give away existing advantage. We hope, naturally, that our children and our neighbour’s children will do well in life. But what are we prepared to do about it? Very little, it seems. Meanwhile younger people express themselves through social media and even organise demonstrations and e-petitions using the internet. But the effect is ephemeral.

We all have a vote, of course, and it’s up to us, whatever our age, to use it. But votes get used in odd ways when you think you’re a customer of your society, not a citizen of it, and when you are either protecting an existing stake or think you have no stake at all.

What can be done?

Successful and resilient societies do one thing supremely well: they make everyone feel they have a stake. Nationalism works up to a point to achieve this effect, but if we think of how the United States has achieved what it has over the last century, it has been through an inclusive and diverse form of national pride that had been extremely successful at making everyone feel they belong. The nationalism now on the rise in many countries is different. It is of a narrowness that plays well to the drivers of generational conflict and atomisation, but is not likely to lead to economic or social success in the medium or long term.

We need our leaders in business and politics to tackle what is driving change in the wrong direction head-on. We need them to make generational equity and social cohesion their top priorities and to implement policies that make tangible improvements quickly. Else 2017 will see us all swept away on a stormy tide.

Written by Sean Lusk (Author of ‘Rethinking Public Strategy’, Palgrave Macmillan, 2014)

The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily of SAMI Consulting.

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