By Laura Wade
Young people have received a pretty bad press recently. A bright eyed, youthful workforce, if you believe the papers, has turned out to be a mass of work shy, impudent layabouts with no prospects and no future. These accusations are brazen, and have been partly responsible for the hostility in both the work environment and the hiring processes that young(er) people have been lumbered with. With the current government pushing through legislation which will make it easier for the employer to “dismiss” an employee, a minimum wage which falls below inflation and the growth in zero hour contracts, it’s easy to understand how the volatile economic environment could cause a whole wave of problems for those who are entering the workplace for the first time.
With the majority of government schemes and workplace opportunities being targeted at inexperienced people who are forced to work for peanuts (or, in many instances, nothing at all) the youth and young adults of our nation are faced with a perilous situation which gives no sign of significantly improving in the short term. Internships, apprenticeship schemes and Voluntary Placement Schemes make it damn near impossible for even the most qualified among us to find a job which pays enough to ensure that we are all set on the road to a financially secure future.
These are just a few of the options available to the youth of today if they are to find “meaningful” work. Decades of emphasis on university education and academic qualifications have left us with an entire generation of people who are stuck in limbo. With little to no chance of getting on the property ladder, we find ourselves indebted to rip-off landlords who siphon away half our wages on rent – leaving us little opportunity to save for anything, whether that be travel, to buy a home, to start a business or to continue our education. Unless you have people to back you or are completely ruthless with concrete ideas, then it is almost impossible to land a job where you could comfortably live and enjoy your life. What the current government seem to forget in their unrelenting attacks on the poor is that not everybody wants to be rich. There are some (in fact, I would like to say the majority) who would just like to live a comfortable, contented life in which they don’t have to worry about paying their rent or putting food on the table. This new class, the supposed “emergent service workers” represent a growing divide in the country’s wealth as well as a somewhat flippant attitude towards poverty and of the future.
The arrogance of our leaders is quite often fairly astounding. There is an underlying assumption within each and every one of them that they can be the ones to solve our problems – instead of setting in motion the processes which will regenerate economic growth and come to strengthen the economy as well as the country’s position in the global market. The series of short, sharp shocks the government is inflicting upon society with its “austerity” measures have meant that a large proportion of the nation is feeling a series of significantly damaging afflictions from which it will find it difficult to recover. The poverty cycle, once in motion, is a difficult thing to prevent from spinning out of control: debt, breeds debt, breeds debt ad infinitum.
Rather than being competent workmen and fixing the foundations of the problem, we are continually left with a bunch of cowboys who are happy to plaster over the cracks so long as they rule before handing over the dilapidated shit pile to their successors. What’s left is a country in turmoil and millions of ordinary people scrambling at the imaginary ladder of success. The emphasis on cut throat ambition and cheating and fighting your way to the top is frightening. With imagined overnight success and with TV reality shows like The Apprentice feeding on this illusion, we can never escape the idea that to be truly successful we must have billions of pounds in an offshore bank account and we have to do it quickly if we are ever to amount to anything. Faced with this, and coupled with the insecurity of the job market, we are a nation who are overwrought with anxiety, uncertainty and a legion of potential employers who are reluctant to make positions available or who cynically use government and voluntary schemes to make use of free labour.
It is a desperate situation, one which is being continually overlooked by the majority of the media and the powers that be. To experience a smooth and relatively problem-free economy which continues to perform cohesively for decades – and generations – to come, an adaptive outlook has to be reached. A willingness to accept the global market as a transient and ever evolving mechanism, a machine which consistently and regularly updates itself and which we must all adapt to by learning its new systems and adjusting to it with constant training. The system should focus on the development of the workforce – and for the workforce to develop, it must be properly understood and nurtured. This means more appropriately focused entry jobs with a realistic and progressive structure, and far better wages, combined with a more accommodating attitude towards our younger generations.
A solution to the housing crisis is also needed. The development of social housing is entirely necessary if we are to ensure that we continue to fight our way out of a recession, and to never return to such lows again. To build houses at a competitive rate, to allow our young people to live debt free for their formative working years, we would allow them to save and to move onto the property ladder, to start their own business, etc. This in turn would ensure that the economy is in a continuous state of stimulation as well as being in a better position to support the most vulnerable members of our society.
The present situation is out of control. By forcing our young people into debt we create a kind of monetary vacuum which has never really been seen before. Theoretically, if the nation was in a more comfortable state financially and the job market was not so hard to navigate, there would be no reason why people should not pay for their own education and training. However, with graduate jobs at an all time low, and with an increasing number of graduates never making it to a position where they can afford to pay back their debts, we leave ourselves in a situation of perpetual decline. Through the creation of such a situation we have developed a currency which is almost entirely worthless and seeks only to bring the country down further.
I do not wish to blame anyone. I believe that the only way we will crawl out of this mess is through solutions, not excuses. I am tired of the blame culture and what I really want – what we all really want – is to be in a position where we can live a comfortable existence without the worry of social and job insecurity. What is needed is a move away from party politics and into a new, negotiated and fully democratic process which ensures that the country is dealt with in the most effective manner, regardless of traditional party lines and vote mongering.
A difficult move, I admit, but in times of real chaos what we really need are representatives who will pull up their sleeves and work together in order to solve problems. This involves taking views from all sides and incorporating them into a comprehensive strategy without causing any pain and suffering to those who are most in need. Too often it is the suffering who must pay in periods of national economic turmoil, but this ‘kill off the weak’ strategy is damaging all round. A move away from benevolence and towards condemnation turns communities away from each other, breeds envy and creates a widening gap between the rich and poor – and not only on a financial level. This demonisation perpetuates problems in the workplace, throughout the benefits system and in society at large, and all this in turn is damaging to the economy, whether through the creation of “ghetto” areas in which property prices are significantly reduced, or through a lost generation who can’t find a place for themselves within the workplace.
No human being deserves to be treated like an animal, no matter what your circumstances may be. in the UK – still one of the world’s richest countries – everybody should have the right to a comfortable existence without fear of poverty or alienation. Make no mistake, this poverty is relative, and for all intents and purposes we have a much better quality of life than our global counterparts do, but the current climate is unsustainable. With a lost generation on one side and an ageing population on the other, it becomes increasingly likely that the debt situation will only get worse with the use of the same old party lines, as well as the excuses and weakness of a bipartisan system which will not cooperate.
Our society has seen such rapid advances in the last few decades that it is not only unreasonable to assume that our outdated and outmoded processes will suffice in times of crisis, it is downright obtuse. We need to learn to adapt as quickly as progress is made, and by pandering to economic principles which are hundreds of years old we are denying ourselves the real possibilities and opportunities which such advances could yield.
This is not a quick fix solution, nor is it about making the present comfortable – it is about making the future viable. It will be a lengthy, difficult process. But instead of lying and cheating our way to the forefront, instead of blaming each other and throwing around empty promises and accusations, we need to be honest with ourselves and understand that this is not a problem which can be brushed under the carpet or fixed overnight. Once we eradicate a misplaced sense of pride and a deep-seated denial, we can get on with the task of making this nation a place in which every citizen is safe and secure; a nation worthy of our pride and affection.