Is there a war waged against British youth?

Disparaging youth is the order of the day in British politics.


Over the past few years there has been a disturbing trend in the UK to pursue policies that discipline and punish youth. While the student protests of 2010 and the summer riots of 2011 should have been clear signs for the political class that they are failing to engage young people or meet their needs in any meaningful way, we are witnessing the exact opposite. The youth (age 17-35 also known as the Millennials or Generation Y) face underemployment, cuts in education spending, mandatory work programmes for those on benefits, and increasing competition for housing.

Back in the 2010 general elections, 48 percent of university students voted for the Liberal Democrats, who went on to form a coalition government with the Conservatives. Despite a pre-election pledge not to increase tuition fees by the Liberal Democrats, they were increased by 300 percent to $15,278. In 2011 again, when the police’s behaviour sparked city-wide tensions in London, politicians blamed it on the supposed “broken society” rather than on their neglect of the youth.

In the past four years, the Conservatives and Labour have pushed for their fair share of youth welfare cuts. British prime minister David Cameron has proposed cutting housing benefits for people under-25 in the 2013 Conservative conference. Labour Party leader Ed Miliband followed suit a few weeks ago, announcing tax-funded jobs for those unable to find one for themselves or no benefits. Most recently, Miliband announced a plan to cut out-of-work benefits for young people who are not in training.

Politicians are clearly cracking down on “feckless youth” just so they can satisfy the readers of The Daily Mail. After UKIP’s surge in the EU elections, both Labour and the Conservatives tripped over themselves to appeal to their voters (mostly Eurosceptics, closet racists and the disgruntled grey vote) and ignored the millions of Generation Y. How far will this disregard for the interests of the young people go?

We should not be surprised at British youth’s overwhelming disillusionment with politics and refusal to vote:59 percent of people between 17 and 21 won’t vote in 2015 because the majority of them think politicians are more interested in big business, pensioners and celebrities.

Fear of a precarious future

A recent survey shows that some 54 percent think that today’s youth will have a worse life than their parents. While wages had been steadily rising for 25 years, they have consistently dropped since 2009, barely making up for 50 percent of inflation year on year. This had some pretty direct results: According to Ipsos Mori “Between 2008 and 2012 […] the median income for those in their 20s fell by 12 percent while it rose for pensioners”. In 2013, the UK spent $236bn in pensions.

Spending on unemployment, family, children and education combined, is not even half of that. And the proposed reforms on unemployment benefits for youth under 21 would save just $110m. Despite job creation going really well right now, zero-hour contracts are booming. It is estimated that 40 percent of young people are under-employed or unemployed in the UK.

[Read more on Al Jazeera English]

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