In March another assault was launched on the ‘lost generation’. It was announced that the minimum wage for under-21s was to be frozen. With youth unemployment already exceeding 20% this news added considerable insult to injury.
Social mobility has not improved in this country since the 1970s; in fact it’s getting worse. Is it any wonder when every choice facing young people these days comes with considerable financial upheaval and strain? You could take the option of university, and pay £9000 a year for the privilege, or take up a job in which you stand to be remunerated with poverty pay.
Those of a conservative disposition argue that young people should be “doing the right thing”, ie marrying, working, saving, but on £4.98 an hour, those things just aren’t within reach. Aside from the tangible economic factors, what will this mean for the ontological wellbeing of our country’s young people?
Most already feel the marginalising effects of being vilified by the media, but to be told that your labour is worth this little can only be degrading; and will hardly engender a feeling of belonging to the wider community. This is emphasised by the fact that the adult minimum wage will be raised, albeit only by 11p, sending out the message that young workers just aren’t as valuable and that their wellbeing is expendable in the quest to offer cheap labour.
Of course, these decisions are coming from a cabinet of millionaires and a generation who got their university tuition for free. The opportunities that allowed them to get to the position they’re in are a distant dream for the majority of young people. People whose parents couldn’t afford to send them to the most renowned private schools, leading straight to the elite universities; who couldn’t afford to support themselves during an unpaid internship; whose family members don’t have the connections required to get the best positions. When we all start on such an uneven playing field, can we really still believe that all you need to get to the top is grit and determination?
Along with cuts to EMA and the raising of tuition fees, Britain’s youth are having their opportunities prised away from them; and then politicians pontificate about how best to sanction the country’s unruly young people. No wonder the so-called lost generation is losing faith in politics; it certainly isn’t showing any faith in them.
Lisa Camps is Chair of the University of York Green Party