The UK government has forecast that the policy of ‘Austerity’ will last until 2018. Children born at the crash of Lehman Brothers, signalling the Financial Crisis in 2008, will spend the first decade of their lives in Austerity Britain. Today we look at the real cost of this decade on our young people.
Trouble at Home
When we talk about the impact of benefit cuts, we often look at things from the adult’s point of view. But forget that children live in the households suffering the cuts to social security made by UK and European governments, and they will feel the pain too. There are currently 3.6m children living in poverty in the UK, and a lot more are about to join them.
In the Autumn Statement last year, the government took a step to deliberately make the poorest poorer. Jobseekers Allowance, Employment and Support Allowance and Income Support were capped at 1% rise for the next three years. As inflation is currently running at 2.7%, this means we are cutting social security payments in real terms for the next three years. The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) said:
“Because the proposed…changes apply to almost all benefits and tax credits, both in-work and out-of-work households are affected. Of 2.8 million workless households of working age, 2.5 million will see their entitlements reduced, by an average of about £215 per year in 2015 –16. Of 14.1 million working-age households with someone in work, 7.0 million will see their entitlements reduced, by an average of about £165 per year. Note that this figure includes 3.0 million families who lose only from the cuts to Child Benefit, at an average of about £75 per year (monetary amounts are in current prices).”
Some might argue that this is some sort of tough love, designed to get those parents into work to the ultimate benefit of the children. I personally do not subscribe to this view, but even if you do, The Resolution Foundation also reported that 60% of these cuts will fall on families in work, whilst 40% fall on families where the legal guardians do not work. Resolution Foundation Chief Executive Gavin Kelly said:
“It’s completely wrong to say (the benefit cap) was all about helping so-called strivers. The OBR [Office of Budget Responsibility] confirmed they expect to see another year of falling wages, stretching into the middle of 2014.”
The government also announced plans to cut Housing Benefit for the Under 25’s. This operate the assumption that Under 25’s who cannot afford a home due to disability, unemployment, sickness or the sheer lack of jobs can go back to the parental home. But what if there is no parental home? What if the parental home is abusive? What if the parental home is broke? Answer came there none.
The 1% cap on social security alone cast 200,000 children into poverty. But additional measures, such as the Bedroom Tax, the cuts to Council Tax Benefit and cuts to Child Tax credits, will see 600,000 more join them within the next five years.
A recent study by Save the Children revealed some truly worrying statistics:
- One in eight of the UKs poorest children are going without hot meals
- 15% of children living in poverty go without new shoes when they outgrow their old ones
- 14% go without a winter coat
- 25% of children living in poverty reported that they only ask their parents for what they need and 15% had given up asking altogether in the knowledge they would put their parents under useless pressure
- 25% were missing out on schools trips because their parents cannot afford them
- 29% can’t have their friends round for tea because their parents cannot afford it.
- 80% of parents are using debt to fund essentials.
This, from a country with one of the highest GDPs in the world. The wealth is not trickling down; it is exploding up like some kind of geyser fitted with a no return valve. We can no longer house, feed and clothe all of our children. They are growing up in un heated homes, without the essentials by strung out, stressed out parents.
Unemployment is shot up to 2.52 million in UK (7.8%), with a rise of 192,000 in December and January, the largest rises since the depths of the credit crunch in 2009. However, the jobs crisis is hitting young people disproportionately hard. Youth unemployment in the UK rose by 5% in the last three months, even by the government’s largely watered down numbers. There are now just shy of 1 million (21.1%) 16-24 year olds out of work that is one in four of all young people in the country.
On top of this, there is a pool of young people not in education, training, or employment which now numbers 893,000. Whilst the overall figure is of NEETs is lower than 2011 for 16-24 year olds, the figures for 18 year olds has actually worsened, from 90,000 in 2010 to 92,000 this year. This could suggest some children are either staying on in A-Levels, or going to University simply to avoid unemployment.
Those young people who do aspire to University are now being saddled with up to £9,000 a year in debt, whilst the MPs who passed the legislation for this went to University for free. Some might point to the 15,000 drop in applications as the negative outcome of this policy. However, it should be more concerning that, given the utter lack of jobs, training or apprenticeships available, young people will simply opt in to University and £30k of debt to have something to do. This effectively transfers the cost of unemployment from the State, to the individual.
This is also part of wider marketisation of education, where student are treated like consumers seeking maximum profit outcomes for their expenditure. This fundamentally changes the way we view the University, from a place of learning, creativity and critical thinking – to a conveyor belt of future employees for the workforce. We are turning our Universities into factories producing people shaped widgets to fit into the world as it is, when they should be the fertile pastures growing the ideas, technologies, sciences, arts, agriculture, economies and societies of tomorrow.
A group of Britain leading academics and thinkers, including Alan Bennett, Sir David Attenborough, Richard Dawkins, Sir Andrew Motion, Booker prize-winner Dame AS Byatt, playwright Michael Frayn and astronomer royal Lord Rees recently founded the Council for the Defence of British Universities. Speaking of the marketisation issue, historian and former British Academy president Sir Keith Thomas said “the very purpose of the university” was being “grossly distorted by the attempt to create a market in higher education”.
The policy has also seen the state shift the burden of paying for our children’s education from the State (a taxpayer funded subsidy for our future), onto the Universities and the students themselves. When it introduced the trebled tuition fees, the government withdrew state funding meaning a net loss of 12% in overall funding. Teaching and research funding fell by 4% and capital funds were cut by more than half. The subsequent increasing outsourcing of services at Universities has also been rampant.
More than half of the country’s universities are poised to increase their tuition fees next year, increasing the burden further.
In fairness, the students have hardly taken this lying down. The student protests of 2010 in response to the tuition fees saw tens of thousands of students taking to the streets, week after week, in the capital and elsewhere.
However, the students effectively marched alone. There was not a widespread reaction to support our young people. Daily Mail, the Guardian, the BBC and Channel 4 news headlines all portrayed the protests as violent. The majority swallowed the propaganda whole, arguing with the government that these feckless, violent youths should be paying their way. We were more concerned with burning dustbins, than a bonfire of a generation’s aspirations.
These are the choices we are leaving our young people, whilst condemning them for any demonstration of their anger, their upset and their frustration at the bum deal they’ve been given.
The Children Are Our Future
It is bad enough that we have created a lost generation in Britain, but it is worse that we have created the same across Europe and North America too.
In a 2012 report, the EU agency Eurofund said Eurozone countries that have received international loans—plus Italy, which hasn’t—are creating a huge class of poorly-educated and poorly-fed young people with low morale and few job prospects. The cost in welfare and lost productivity was already costing Europe 153bn Euros every year, but there were bigger prices to pay for this total abandon of our young people.
The OECD has stated unambiguously that Europe as a whole is ‘failing to meet its social contract’ in its treatment of young people, with political disenfranchisement reaching levels equivalent to those which ignited the Arab Spring. They warn:
“The consequences of a lost generation are not merely economic but are societal, with the risk of young people opting out of democratic participation in society.”
“This could be a recipe not just for one lost generation in Europe but for several lost generations,”
One in ten young people young people in Greece, Ireland, Portugal, Italy and Spain are now in, or on the brink of poverty. Greece’s youth unemployment has hit 60%; Spain’s just hit a record 55% last month and Italy coming close to 40%. This has been the result of so called Austerity, the policy which seeks to reduce public spending on public good and divert it into tax payer subsidies for private interests, and it is our children who are paying the price.
This same ruthless short-termism that saw City millionaires bankrupt their own banks for a bonus is behind this devastation of our young people. This policy does not answer the question: where exactly are the next scientists, artists, engineers, political thinkers, philosophers, economists, carers and teachers going to come from? It just says: we can’t afford to invest in them now, whilst we can afford tax cuts for the richest, tax cuts for corporations, and the permission of egregious tax avoidance by our largest companies. Austerity is the policy of ‘jam tomorrow’. But continue as we are and this will only be the human traffic jam, queuing outside the job centre – full of young people who never stood a chance.
- The next time there is a student protest. Join it. Tell your friends to join it and bring it up in conversation.
- Oppose austerity. Simply refuse to buy in to the mistruths, false dilemmas and outright lies that make austerity our only option.
- The Council for the Defence of British Universities – check them out and see how you can support.
- Occupy Student Debt Campaign – this US Occupy movement is making waves and making a difference. This should inspire us to do the same.
- Be lovely! Just be lovely, talk to young people like you were one once, understand the pain they are in and do what you can personally in your circle to inspire, support and nurture our young ones! If you are a young person, be honest about your circumstances and keep fighting and building for a better tomorrow, for yourself and the world.