So far, the ConDems are doing a fine job of that thanks to targeting its most regressive cutbacks on persons 16 to 35 years of age.
I don’t claim to be an anthropologist nor a social historian. Perhaps you could call this a rant. Strictly speaking it is, but it’s no typical shouty one. Rather a muted one about the way Britain’s young people are being treated. Which is, at this very moment, very badly.
Once upon a time, not so long ago (well, 35 years ago to be exact), you could reach the age of 25 as a debt free citizen with a secure job. You could better yourself at university, a Further Education college or polytechnic, free of debt. In most cases free of charge. With a grant. Plus you could have claimed Unemployment Benefit if you studied as a full time undergraduate. Or as a college student from the age of 16 onwards. By 25 years of age, you could have got a mortgage and – if you were lucky – paid it off by the 1990s. If not, there was ample Council Housing, even if some of the estates were inhospitable. Job security was higher thanks to a strong labour movement. We also had Wages Councils and a Prices and Incomes Board which made for stable price controls on essentials like bread and milk.
By 2014, things have changed, certainly not for the better. Right To Buy and today’s Help To Buy scheme has made independence a pipe dream for a number of working class under 25s. The former helped to reduce and privatise municipal housing stock. The latter, is helping more monied people to reinforce their hold on the housing market, creating a bubble thus pricing out first time buyers. Council housing has largely been supplanted by Arms Length Management Organisations. The ‘Bedroom Tax’ and changes to the Social Security system has made having a roof over your head much harder.
Today, further and higher education warrants financial cost in the form of five-figure Student Loan debts. Social mobility has become a luxury for anyone earning less than £20k a year. Few 25 year olds are lucky enough to earn £20,000 p.a., unless they get in to debt with a similar amount or more after three to four years as an undergraduate. Where are the jobs? There’s a fair number of apprenticeships around, but how many are genuine instead of ways around evading National Minimum Wage legislation? If you visit the Universal Job Match website, you will see a fair number of part time positions, but a lot – and I mean a lot – of Catalogue Distributor positions. Betterware, Kleeneze, that sort of stuff – also known as Multi-Level Marketing – self employed, no guarantee of regular weekly or monthly income either.
Plus, it is also proposed that persons under the age of 25 would be sent on a Mandatory Work Activity programme if they ‘failed’ on The Work Programme. In other words, more cheap labour for multinationals, or community groups. The nature of voluntary work itself is having its well poisoned. More than anything, we all want a fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay, but our fellows in Westminster is reviving the workhouse, albeit in the comfort of our home. Or cardboard box.
And you wonder why finding a place of their own is tougher now compared with 1979. Today’s wages aren’t enough for a deposit, zero hours equals zero mortgage or any other form of consumer credit. If you are sixteen years of age, you cannot claim Social Security benefits till eighteen years of age. Woe betide any teen with limited financial means wishing to leave home at 16 or 17. Given recent policy changes, anyone under the age of 35.
The Conservatives are aiming to disenfranchise people under the age of 35 much more. Persons under 35 years of age cannot claim the full rate of Housing Benefit; they can only claim a Shared Room Rate, which has been effective since 2010. Plus they are also subject to the Bedroom Tax, even more perverse if aged 18 to 24 on lower rates of Social Security benefits and National Minimum Wage rates.
By May 2015, if they are returned to power, worse will come as half of the proposed £25billion cutbacks will affect the Department of Work and Pensions. Under 25s could be unable to claim Social Security benefits. Homelessness will mushroom, not only by 2015, but possibly by 2015 on the 24 December 2014 or sooner. Unscrupulous private landlords are increasingly putting up the ‘No DSS’ signs and evicting incumbent claimants, whether they’ve had a good credit history or not.
Instead of nurturing new younger talent into our workplaces, government policy favours later retirement ages – much to the chagrin of older people in strenuous jobs. Young people are poorly represented in the media as ‘lacking morals’, ‘workshy’, ‘feral’ and ‘lazy’. The oldest political trick in the world [divide and rule] is the back story behind the ‘people are living longer’ lie. A even bigger one in deprived parts of Britain like Middlesbrough, Manchester and Hackney rather than Harrogate, Cheadle and Kensington. Why are people in Manchester, Middlesbrough and Hackney living shorter lives than in Harrogate, Cheadle and Kensington? Poverty and high unemployment.
In addition to above, proposed changes will deny some people under 35 years of age the right to their own home, independence and secure employment. Some will be forced to stay at home with parents they have little or no time for, thus increasing dependency owing to financial shortfall.
Which is why I’ve wondered why 35 is now the age of full adulthood.
From 16, you can procreate and shoot people. At 18, buy cigarettes, vote, drink alcohol purchased from an off-licence or a public house, and claim Social Security benefits – albeit at a reduced rate. By 25, you are entitled to the full rates of most Social Security benefits and the National Minimum Wage, though not the full rate of Housing Benefit (Shared Room Rate only).
By 35, you can claim the full rate of Housing Benefit as well as other Social Security benefits and the National Minimum Wage. There’s every chance you may be a homeowner, have a steady job, children of your own and have enough money to improve your immediate surroundings.
At one time, you could have had all the above detailed in the last paragraph, at the age of 25. Or 18 even. There was no such thing as Workfare, only full employment; you didn’t need to drive to your nearest Post Office; drinking alcohol didn’t mark you out as a ‘binge drinker’ as seen on such ‘winsome’ programmes like Bouncers, Booze Britain or any other anti-drinking lobby inspired crapumentaries. Claiming Social Security was a necessity rather than an evil on hard times, thanks to your own National Insurance Contributions, and there was no shame. No one in the street, mass media or internet labelling you as a ‘scrounger’, even if your National Insurance contributions funded your JSA as well as State Pension.
The post-1979 mindset has infantilised our view of vulnerable persons and young people wishing to better themselves. In spite of opposition to the ConDems’ recent changes, there is a sizeable groundswell of opinion who favour harder and faster cuts.
If we wish to improve prospects among 16 to 35 year olds, we need to get out of the post-1979 mindset. What made and makes Britain a pleasant enough place to reside is our sense of fair play and justice. The absolute high water mark of this was the Post-Second World War Consensus from 1945 to 1979. A seminal moment which ushered in full employment, the foundation of the National Health Service, a supportive Welfare State, and public ownership of our railways, coal, steel, buses, oil, gas, water and electricity. One where higher education was free and publicly funded.
In 2014, it is ‘Never Again, Again’. Time to return to the values of Clement Attlee rather than Margaret Thatcher. There’s only seventeen months to go, not merely a lifetime. Most importantly, people aged 16 to 35 years old need a real future. Otherwise they will leave us, and the rest of the UK without any fresh thinking. Right now, some of us are happy to get Bobby Charlton playing another 90 minutes instead of finding and nurturing a future Wayne Rooney. (I don’t care where the latter comes from either, be it Bucharest or Buckinghamshire).
S.V., 06 January 2014.