Ed Howker and Shiv Malik were at the Arnolfini as part the Festival of Ideas. Howker and Malik have written the book Jilted Generation: How Britain Has Bankrupted Its Youth.
“Born after September 1979? Struggling to find a decent job, even though you’re a graduate? Can’t afford to buy or even rent a house? No prospects? Welcome to the jilted generation. Things go wrong in society all the time, but rarely do they go wrong for an entire generation” says the summary at the back of the book.
Apparently these two authors did their own research and discovered that today’s young people (31 and under) did actually face a harder time than young people of 30 to 40 years ago. Pardon me for my lack of enthusiasm when Malik told us that he’d had to learn to use Excel and to draw up graphs and everything. Compare that to the 1.38 million hits that social mobility as a search term brings up in Google Scholar.
Some of the issues that young people are facing according to the authors:
- Being stuck in the rental sector, over 50% of young people rent because they can’t afford to buy;
- Student fees mean that young people start off their professional lives in debt.
- General financial situation: increased national debt because of the costs of pensions and the NHS etc.
Why do these things matter?
- Because young people will stop having children, apparently there is a statistical link to housing and money;
- Society will lose its communities;
- People will stop having relationships;
- People will start leaving the country.
The political part of the discussion focussed on neoliberalism and the rise of Thatcherism. There was some discussion about demographics and market research and how we were now segmented into voters. Politics focuses on short term discussions rather than the real issues apparently.
Also, young people just weren’t involved in politics any more, they weren’t striking, they weren’t protesting and they were generally apathetic. The irony of the pair’s own friends who were policy advisers and that at 29 they told us they were themselves too old to advise politicians seemed to pass them by.
The relationship between the media and politics was questioned and we were told that editors are usually much older and this was the problem.
Ed Howker rejected the idea of class as a determinant of how society works. Then when I questioned why they, two 29 year old journalists, who in general are professionals who will have grown up in families that are better off than three in four of all families in the UK, and both married saw themselves as facing the same issues as young kids from Brixton (an example from another audience member) – Shiv got defensive and wondered why his choice to get married should have any affect.
Most of the talk was based on generalisations, 50% of young people are now in higher education we were told. In actual fact the real rate was 45% in 2008/09. But those 45 out of 100 are not randomly plucked out of the population. Female and male young people face a difference at 51% and 40%, respectively. Also, “currently fewer than one in five young people from the most disadvantaged areas enter higher education compared to more than one in two for the most advantaged areas.” (2010, Hefce 10/03).
It was a fascinating talk and most of it was shallow enough to raise many arguments. Some audience members agreed with the ‘analysis’ and told about how their children spent too much money. Another woman nearly had tears in her eyes talking about how she had to go on the dole in January after being very well educated. I was reminded of the David Icke documentary I saw one time where the existence of lizard people was combined with discussions of 9/11 and terrorism. Just because some elements are true does not mean that we need to believe the rest.