VIEWPOINTS: The youth of today

By Neil Coupe

Casually scrolling through Facebook the other day, I came across a post from a middle-aged guy on my timeline criticising some of the recent climate change protesters.

So far, so normal, but I was taken aback at the venom with which young people were then characterised as ‘uneducated, selfish, virtue signalling little xxxx’s … who crave a feeling of having a “noble cause”.

There is, of course, nothing unusual or new about disconnects, misunderstandings or of simple banter between the generations.

However, discussions behind closed doors in the 1970’s and 80’s about how hair should be shorter, the TV should be turned off more, and we should bring back National Service, seemed much more benign and tongue-in-cheek.  As for the disparaged ‘noble cause’, what is the difference between young people of today protesting climate change, and their parents boycotting Barclays in the 1980’s in protest against their support of the Apartheid regime in South Africa?

History tends to judge progressive causes quite favourably.

Comments made on social media can easily be misconstrued or exaggerated.  Nevertheless, publicly dismissing people of a certain gender or ethnicity with such a remark would be unthinkable to most people, but why is it OK to mock an entire generation?

It does feel that the young are facing challenges we did not encounter in the past.

Take for example the issue of student loans, unknown to earlier generations.  Students are coming away from University with an average loan of around £40,000, which increases at a compound rate of 6.1% per annum the day they are fortunate enough to earn £25,000.

For those earning £25,000-£35,000, the effect of this is like the growth of Japanese Knotweed, as substantial amounts are taken out of the salaries to pay down the loan only for a statement to arrive for the Student Loan Company showing that interest has increased the debt further despite the amounts paid down.

The argument here is not whether the concept of students paying their own way is right or wrong, more that this is a burden specific to this generation, and somehow it is they who always seem to get the very shortest end of the stick.  At the very least the interest rate should be addressed, and maybe New Zealand model of zero interest should at least be examined.

The 2008 financial crash has had many consequences, arguably falling disproportionately upon the young. The actions taken to avoid economic catastrophe (QE and interest rate cuts) resulted in increasing asset values, eg according to Zoopla, house prices in Wokingham increased 48% from 2008 to 2018 for example.

This is good for people with assets but now, in a time of stagnant wages, a modest starter flat costing ten times average income in Wokingham, and banks prepared to loan only 4.2 times income, that first step on the housing ladder is virtually impossible without the Bank of Mum and Dad, other family money or through a joint-ownership model.

Since the Second World War each generation has expected the following generation to see an increase in living standards, with them being able to afford a home and achieve a secure well -paid job. Maybe those days have gone for now, maybe for ever, and people will become accustomed to short term projects rather than lifetime careers.

After being involved in community activities in Wokingham and throughout Berkshire with young people of all backgrounds over the past decade, my experience of the younger generation is far from them being ‘uneducated, selfish, virtue signalling’. On the contrary it is overwhelmingly positive, as they demonstrate conscientiousness, resilience, loyalty, tolerance and particularly confidence and strong inter-personal skills enabling them to interact comfortably throughout the generations.

Despite the hurdles placed before them, the fundamental challenges facing them and little political bandwidth or appetite to assist, is to be hoped that the younger generation, armed with the skills they have developed, will eventually have the opportunities to advance in life.

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