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David Cameron’s ill-informed proposal to end social security for over 25s should be the end of the scorning of young people, but it’s a political trend that shows no sign of letting up. The unforgiving rhetoric which has characterised this government will continue for at least the next two years. Pitting different groups in society against one another is not the behaviour of a political party that’s fit to govern but that is just what the Conservative party is trying to do to win their first election for 23 years. It’s the employed vs. the unemployed, Britons vs. Migrants and perhaps most perniciously of all the young vs. everyone else. It is a well-known fact that young people’s voting turnout is poor, 44% at the last election, compared to around 76% from over 65s. However to write this off as young people not caring is highly irresponsible from any political party, the real reasons are far deeper and more complex.
Both in Parliament and the media, people have been trying to characterise youths as feckless delinquents. Every story about a Facebook party is seized and dragged out mercilessly; having the temerity to make mistakes is treated with prudish disdain, while consistent academic excellence from students just arouses disparaging comments on grade inflation and exams being too easy. Michael Gove’s decision to slam what he called grade inflation in May this year was the worst example of this brand of divisive politics. Just as students across the country who had worked, worried and sweated their arse off to pass government administered exams so they can go on and pass some more government administered exams to then do even more were sitting down, Gove was immediately belittling the achievements of young people in his characteristic nasty and malicious manner.
The notion that under-25s should not have access to any social security is almost farcical and the defences of this policy have been pathetic. Some have said that children will just have to be dependent on their parents for longer and helping to keep families together, wilfully ignoring the fact that some families cannot afford to look after their children until they are 25. Others have asked why people who haven’t worked a day in their life and not paid any taxes should receive a donation from the state. They fail to recognise that Britain is not the “land of opportunity” that David Cameron described, but instead a country with 21% youth unemployment which stretches to over 1 million people under the age of 25. The opportunities to ‘earn or learn’, as David Cameron put it, are not there, so should we instead let the future of our country rot?
No longer guaranteed a job when leaving education it is, at the moment, highly unlikely that any of us will be able to take our first steps onto the housing ladder while still in our 20s, at least. Since the 1980s when Margaret Thatcher’s Right to Buy policy allowed people to buy their council homes at knock down prices the social housing stock has perished and in return house prices have soared. The average price of a house in 1980 was £20,000, now it stands at around £220,000 and rising thanks to the current government’s cynical Help to Buy policy. While Right to Buy was very popular in the 1980s we are now suffering from the consequences. 1/3 of the houses sold off in Right to Buy are now owned by private landlords, which makes a mockery of the ‘property owning democracy’ Thatcher and her Conservatives regularly touted. For many young people a life of being victims to extortionate rents and greedy landlords is not only a distinct possibility but almost certain unless something drastically changes.
The personal should rarely come into politics however perhaps one of the most galling aspects of this is that this announcement came from David Cameron, someone who received the finest and most expensive education in the country, who has never had to endure the hardships of unemployment or had the misfortune to try to live off £53 a week. When you step back and see a man distantly related to the queen mercilessly, criticising the poorest and most vulnerable, this government seems to have more in common with the worst of British monarchical rule rather than a caring and compassionate government. However unlike his distant relatives David Cameron and the Conservatives weren’t born to rule and young people need to show them this at the ballot box.