Young people are at the sharp end of a redistribution of wealth upwards. Generation Y will be poorer than the generation that preceded it – a fact without precedent in recent history. But this is not inevitable – it is the outcome of policies that are as contestable as they are contemptible. Here are four ways in which youth are being taken for a ride, and three ways in which we are pushing back.
1. Youth unemployment is back.
Three years ago youth unemployment spiked and ‘the graduate without a future’ hit the front pages. Then the statistics levelled off and the media moved on.
But youth unemployment is back (and in any case it was only ever replaced by low paid, precarious work). The numbers of people aged 16-24 who are not in full-time education or employment – NEETs, as they are affectionately called – increased by 8000 over the last quarter, taking the total to 498,000. This makes young people three times more likely to be unemployed than the rest of the population – the largest gap since 1992.
2. And the Tories respond by proposing a cut in benefits to 18-21 year olds.
Despite rising youth unemployment and low paid, precarious work, David Cameron announced last week that the Tories would abolish Jobseekers Allowance for 18-21 year olds. In its place would be a ‘Youth Allowance’, requiring young people to do a minimum of 30 hours unpaid work a week, on top of searching for a job.
This is effectively asking young people to do full-time menial labour for £57.35 a week. Not only is this less than a fifth of the living wage, it also fails on its own terms – it will not help young people clamber up the greasy ladder into the low paid economy that lies one rung above.
3. Housing is unaffordable.
You probably don’t need someone to tell you that there is a housing crisis in the UK. But this housing crisis is playing out in generational terms and hitting the youth hardest. Young people don’t own homes or have long-standing fixed rental agreements – they have spiralling house prices and landlords who double the rent on a whim. It is not only young people who face these problems, but it is disproportionately ‘our problem’.
4. And we’re more indebted than ever.
Following thirty years of easy credit and the coalition’s tripling of tuition fees, generation Y are probably the most indebted generation in history. Graduates are now leaving university with an average debt of £44,000. What goes up must come down…
5. So students in the US are refusing to pay back their loans.
This week it emerged that students in the US are responding to extraordinary levels of indebtedness by organising the first ever student debt strike. 15 students from Corinthian colleges – a for-profit conglomerate of universities with particularly predatory lending practices – are refusing to pay back their loans, arguing that their degrees are ‘worth nothing’. They say they were encouraged by the colleges to take on large loans without fully understanding the consequences.
Debt striking is certainly a welcome idea given the tripling of tuition fees. However, it won’t help young people change that most basic of problems – work, and the lack thereof.
6. Young people are setting up co-operatives as an alternative to all the above.
AltGen is an organisation that helps young people set up workers’ co-operatives as an alternative to exploitative work, unpaid internships and youth unemployment. Co-operatives are not the only solution, but they are one of them. They are a way of meeting our needs on our own terms, where the workers are in control and share the profits equally. There are no bosses and no external shareholders.
AltGen is a workers’ co-operative itself, which means we all have an equal share and equal say in the running of workplace – not something that can be said of your average Lidl, Amazon warehouse, or even social enterprise or local bakery.
And we’re not alone. Other good examples include The Bristol Cable (a new media co-op) and Students for Co-operation (a network of co-ops meeting students’ basic needs from housing to food).
7. You can set one up too!
AltGen is running the Young Co-operators Prize – five £2000 grants to groups of young people who want to start a co-operative, and support to help set them up. If you’re already working collaboratively with others, this could be for you. If you want work without the bosses, work without the shareholders, work that benefits you and your community – this is definitely for you. The deadline is 1 March, so get your skates on!