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“The graduates of 2012 will survive only in the cracks of our economy” are words which would cause any student or young person to flinch. These were the words of Newsnight’s economics editor Paul Mason as he went on to describe the failures of successive governments to provide for a younger generation. Punctuated with mass unemployment, rocketing housing prices and trebled tuition fees, it seems the British economy is simply not able to accommodate the emerging, talented and skilled workforce at its disposal. Previous elections have been fought for the older generations – the consistent voters who in many people’s eyes decide general elections – and we live in a political landscape that has catered for the baby-boomers, with little regard given to their babies.
It has been nearly a year since youth employment rose to over 1,000,000, meaning that over 20% of 16-24 year olds are out of work. For many this was a watershed moment in which the perpetually rising numbers reached seven figures for the first time in Britain’s history. However, little has been done to stem the endemic problems in a dysfunctional economy. This is certainly not a problem exclusive to students, but young people as a whole. The gutting of Britain’s workforce that defined the Margaret Thatcher’s years, and failure to resurrect this, is just one of the many reasons why a flagging workforce has not recovered from the assault of the 1980s. No longer are jobs guaranteed for graduates or skilled workers, while Britain’s economy and its people continue to suffer for its lack of diversity.
Housing, often seen as a social enabler, has also barred many young people from greater prospects, with rocketing prices leaving them confined to their parents’ home or that of opportunistic landlords. Since the ‘Right to Buy’ act, where the government allowed people to buy their council houses at greatly knocked down prices, was introduced in 1980 house numbers have stagnated and prices have soared. The average value of a house before Right to Buy was introduced was £21,000 and thirty two years on it is an eye-watering £221,000. Money that was made from ‘Right to Buy’ was not reinvested in housing, and since then the notion of a home owning democracy has withered. Landlords and the rich, who could afford to develop property portfolios, have seen their incomes increase remarkably at the expense of Britain’s youth, who make up 52% of private landlords clients. There is a chronic lack of a responsible state alternative, as 5 million people remain on waiting lists for council houses. Council homes are often demonised, however an introduction of affordable good-quality housing should provide the stimulus for improvement in the housing market which is desperately failing millions of people across Britain and benefiting only the rich few.
With no guarantee of a steady job and the property ladder a distant dream, David Willetts accurately describes the problem saying “They say that young people nowadays go off the rails but we have taken the rails away”, and it would seem it is up to our generation to rebuild these rails for not only our benefit but for subsequent generations. The trebling of tuition fees may cripple aspiration but what lies after university may fundamentally damage a generation at one of its most vulnerable times. Now is the opportunity, with an era-defining general election on the horizon, for the young to wield the power of the baby-boomers. They must prove an unavoidable mass of voices and opinions that demand to be heard. Only then, when a young person’s vote is potent, will change occur – and it is a change to benefit not one single generation but subsequent ones, and help provide a future for them in a way the government has inexcusably not done so for us.