Social determinants of health
In the UBC School of Population Health (where our Lab is based), the housing, family, climate and government budget squeezes are understood as examples of deteriorating “social determinants of health.” That’s a fancy way of saying that health doesn’t begin with medical care. Wellbeing begins where we are born, grow, live, work and age – conditions that are deteriorating for younger Canadians.
Those conditions are deteriorating because of the growing gap between peoples’ incomes and the costs of living (i.e. housing, child care, education, etc.). This gap makes balancing work and life more challenging, especially for parents. Plus, there’s growing wealth inequality and a looming climate crisis that threaten our quality of life and future wellbeing.
The Covid-19 pandemic has made us all keenly aware that our health doesn’t begin with medical care. Physical distancing made it impossible to ignore how our wellbeing is fundamentally shaped by the security of our housing situations; the adequacy of our incomes; our access to education, childcare, parks, and social networks.
That's why Generation Squeeze researches, educates and advocates for solutions that increase wellbeing and promote "health in all policies."
Intergenerational fairness is closely tied to wellbeing
Research about the social determinants of health encourages investment earlier in people’s lives, especially when generations are having their children. Earlier investment is necessary to promote wellbeing and prevent illness, rather than spending more later on when people struggle in school, struggle to find work, or fall sick. Key early investments include child care and parental benefits, housing, fighting climate change and more.
Unfortunately, Canadian governments are slow to align their budgets with this evidence, partly because policies that currently shape poorer conditions for younger generations often benefit older Canadians. We know that none of our aging family members intend this. Nevertheless, the political and economic systems in which we all operate often benefit the aging population more than those who follow in their footsteps.
Take housing. Home prices continue to rise far beyond young peoples’ earnings, crushing their dreams of ownership and driving up rents. For many, there is reluctance to rein in housing prices in large part because those who bought homes in the past get richer from rising home values. As a result, younger and future generations are increasingly squeezed out of the communities in which they live, work, and want to raise families.
Or climate change. Our industries, infrastructure and lifestyles inject too much carbon into the atmosphere, thereby accelerating climate change. Unless we put a higher price on pollution, incentivize alternatives and invest in sustainable change to curb our carbon addiction, we risk the very climate younger Canadians depend on for their health and economic wellbeing. This is a massive cost we pass onto young and future generations.
And government budgets are a problem too. Governments don’t invest evenly between priorities for younger residents (think child care, postsecondary, housing) and older Canadians (think retirement security and medical care), nor collect revenue in ways that are attuned to generational fairness. Invariably, governments increase spending more urgently for our aging population, and do so without actually acknowledging this budget decision. Failure to acknowledge leaves the problem under the radar of public scrutiny.
In these three examples, what’s been good for older generations has been bad for the health and wellbeing of younger and future generations. If we continue on this path, children growing up today will likely be in an even worse position than Gen X, Millennials and Gen Z. Our focus on intergenerational fairness brings these issues to light to build public support for our governments to tackle the intergenerational tensions in their policy and budgeting decisions so we can make Canada work for all generations.
Our focus on intergenerational fairness complements other movements
There already exist strong movements to end homelessness and protect renters; to improve incomes; to invest in child care and promote work-life balance; to protect the environment, etc. These movements often focus on unfair power dynamics related to class, gender, race, colonization, sexuality, newcomer status, and so on.
At Generation Squeeze, we complement these movements by adding an explicit analysis of "age" and the social determinants of health to the mix. We do so in particular by focusing on how government budgets and party platforms align with the evidence about what is required to create a Canada that works for all generations.