Tuesday 17th January 2012
By Alex Donald, Features Assistant
The UK has a youth problem. Our problem is that we don’t stand up to the negative stereotypes portrayed of us; we don’t have access to the privileges of employment, free education and the housing market which previous generation enjoyed; and unless we do something about it, we really are a ‘lost generation’.
There has always been intergenerational misunderstanding. However, since the recession, the lack of money, equality and social mobility has pushed some workers over the edge and the sharp end of their frustration and resentment has fallen at the doorstep of young people.
Last summer, rioters set alight their own towns and cities. The majority of them were youths. What followed during and after the violence was a media onslaught attacking young people. The symbolism of merciless feral youths burning down an established Victorian family-run carpet store in Croydon was powerful enough to polarise the debate into an “us” and “them” diatribe.
Recently, a young jobless geology graduate, Cait Reilly, reportedly felt “shaken up” by hostile radio presenters. She was grilled over why she is suing the government over being made to work unpaid at Poundland in order to continue receiving benefits. This is despite her having already gained unpaid work experience at a museum in line with her career path. Hardly the feckless, dole-scrounging stereotype!
If this discourse is anything to go by, then we really are a lost cause generation. At best, we have an overinflated sense of entitlement. At worst, when we don’t get our own way, we turn to crime.
Of course, things are rarely that black and white. If you marginalise a whole group of people, it’s likely that a minority of that group will turn to crime-as we saw in the 2011 England riots. Not an excuse; just a fact.
We, the youth, have to pay for our education, have to jump through hoops just to gain unpaid work experience, and, as a recent Academy for Parliamentary and Policy Studies event has shown, if we are lucky enough to gain full-time employment, we have to save more for our pensions than previous generations. (Contact APPS for more events, including “The Privatisation of Higher Education: Where Now?” on 20th March).
Ms Reilly is a classic example of a youth who has been demonised. At 22, and with a geology degree under her belt, her career ambition is to work in a museum. Off her own back, she had gained unpaid work experience at a museum, when she was forced by her Job Centre to spend her time, instead, doing unpaid work at Poundland (where, of course, she would be involuntarily undercutting some other poor worker’s job).
As a youth, I don’t want a job to be handed to me on a plate, but at the same time I don’t want to be denied the chance to stand and succeed on my own two feet. I don’t want special privileges, but at the same time I don’t want to be demonised in the media. I just want our generation to have the same opportunities and dignity offered to the generation before me.
At a time when Europe is turning into one big residential care home, it’s the bright young things in the emerging economies of Brazil, China and India who are storming onto the world stage. I want to contribute my hard-earned taxes to the UK economy because this is my home. However, if our media and society continue to marginalise and demonise us, then I – and anyone else who can – will have nothing more to say except: zaijian, até a vista and namasté (“ta-ta” in Mandarin, Brazilian Portugese and Hindi).