I’ve had about 50 of the same conversation since the election. ‘lol mate we’re a bit f*cked aren’t we?’ ‘lol yeah’
The general consensus among most of my peers is that we, well, don’t have much of a future. Housing and rent, benefits, jobs, wages, student grants and debt. We’ve been thrown to the lions, the sacrificial non-voting or non-Tory voting lamb. And all we tend to do is make sarcastic comments. We’re the least likely to vote or to join a union or party. We occasionally attend protests. We’re definitely not apolitical, but rather hopeless. Like the poor, the marginalised; renters, foodbank users, benefit claimants, social housing tenants. We, as young Brits, don’t make much of a fuss, though really we should. Unlike what TIME or whatever cliched article about the Entitled Generation of Evil, Evil Narcissists say, we just want a decent future. One where the next generation, like you predecessors for the last 100 years, do better than the last. But ask any millennial today (or, well, most) if they think they’ll have a better life than their parent, and they will scoff in your face probably before downing their Tescos Value Vodka (it’s all we have).
You could ask us about housing. You probably shouldn’t.
Every millennial has walked past an estate agent, inadvertently catching a vast number in the corner of their eye before sobbing audibly.
Housing prices were 3 times the average wage 30 years ago. Today they are 12 times the average wage. House prices have soared as the London housing bubble continues to inflate. The crash never seemed to stop the spiral, and we never learnt our lesson. But we’ve all abandoned home ownership, we just want a place to rent. TOO BAD LMAO.
Since Right to Buy (and before the extension of Right to Buy),1 in 5 houses have been bought up by landlords. Did you know a third of MPs are landlords? So that happened. And there’s no cap on what landlords can charge, no control over when they can choose to hike rent. And now we’re banned from housing benefit till 21 and it’s the number one target for the £12bn welfare cuts that are about to happen (which are broadly popular, because people don’t realise housing benefit is a subsidy going directly to private landlords), we’re either living with our parents till we’re 30 or risk living under constant threat of eviction and homelessness. God forbid if you’re from an abusive household.
All of this alongside the worst record for housebuilding since the war, so there’s no social housing to replace what’s been sold (and *cough* bought by the boomers). The young and the poor are being socially cleansed out of major cities.
You might, if you’re an insensitive asshole, ask us about jobs and wages. If we’re lucky enough to find one that’s paid(unlikely, youth unemployment is the worst in 20 years, even though unemployment as a whole has fallen), they’ll likely be low paid. And since the onset of globalisation since the 1970s, average wages have fallen. To take a US indicator, in the 1970s, the median male salary was $32,500, it’s now $14,600. Growing up post-liberalisation is hard, growing up a jobseeker post-crash is even worse. As unemployment pushed a mass of desperate degree educated jobseekers into jobs they were overqualified for, employers could afford to demand a year or more experience for otherwise menial entry level jobs, leaving the young and inexperienced in low demand.
So the next best (?) thing is an internship, and it’s probably unpaid, which the poor can’t afford. So basically, you’re just gonna be unemployed really.
You shouldn’t ask them about debt or grants. While student debt doesn’t immediately affect us, nor has it put off poorer kids from applying to university, it has plenty o’ psychological damage. It feels like a punishment served to us for education. Served to us on a platter by politicians who got theirs for free. But the more immediate threat is the student grant cut that is about to come. The Tories plan to gradually abolish the grant poorer students receive and add it to the maintenance loan we have to pay back. Futile considering it’s just government debt we, as poorer kids unlikely to ever receive a decent wage, will ever pay back. But it’s the principle, you see. We don’t deserve a handout. It’s even more of a sting if you’re silly enough to think what could have been; Red Ed wanted to raise the maintenance grant by £400. And we overwhelmingly voted for that guy, so why do the Tories need to serve us?
Definitely don’t ask the most vulnerable of us about benefit cuts.
The young, alongside women, the poor and disabled (and god save you if you’re all four), have been the ones to be sacrificed at the alter of the deficit. What Britain will we live in in 2020? We may have a surplus, but at what cost? Our public services, our welfare state, will be on the brink. Housing benefit, Job Seeker’s Allowance, tax credits, Sure Start centres, these are services the young are by far more likely to use. We are The Scrounger. As much as that rhetoric sets the deserving and undeserving poor against each other, it also sets the old against the unemployed and low-paid young. Pensions and OAP benefits are triple locked, immunised, while us scroungers deserve what we get because we’re supposed to work hard like they did.
It’s also likely that without decent public services, an entire generation will feel less inclined to be good contributors, to feel social responsibility. Far from being radicalised into a mobilised collective, we will be radicalized into demanding lower taxes for a smaller state. What exactly would our taxes be paying for at that point anyway? Those triple locked pensions?
An entire generation, socially engineered by social exclusion to despise the welfare state they never had.
I just realised, this could have easily been summed up by Frank Turner (x):
You’ve got a generation raised on the welfare state,
Enjoyed all its benefits and did just great,
But as soon as they were settled as the richest of the rich,
They kicked away the ladder, told the rest of us that life’s a bitch.
It’s hard not to fall into inter-generational cliches and wars when the generation who voted for Reagan and Thatcher tell us we’re just scroungers. I try to avoid it, but it’s hard not to be on the receiving end of those tired old platitudes: We should just work hard like our parents did. We should just aspire like they did.
You know, we all have aspiration, almost all of us work hard, even us scrounging youth. But don’t try to sell us the American dream, we’re British. You and us know better than that. You can’t aspire out of the birth lottery. You can’t aspire out of three decades of the gradual erosion of the welfare state or wage stagflation. You can’t aspire out of growing up during and after the financial crash. You can’t aspire out of tuition fees or Tory cuts to student grants and housing benefit, or at the same time out of rip-off landlords. You can’t aspire out of the laughably tragic misfortune of being a millennial.
We are, all at the same time, Generation Rent; Generation Low Pay; Generation Unpaid Internship; Generation Debt. And for the most disadvantaged, so much worse. We could be Generation Foodbank; Generation Child Poverty. And we can add ‘lol’ to the titles of articles like this, but for a lot of us it’s a matter of anxiety and panic instead of a joke. We’re just nice enough to put a smile on and use emojis in the face of adversity.