Student Protests and the Emerging Discontent of Youth
by Oliver Huitson
December 18, 2010
The “iPod generation” have long been written off as apathetic, pampered wasters; a collection of illiterate Nathan Barleys draining their parents resources. Yet, from the storming of Tory HQ to campus occupations across the country, it is those same youth now leading public resistance to the Coalition’s cuts. The tripling of tuition fees is unquestionably serious, but it represents only a small part of the problems facing Britain’s young. An increasing awareness of generational imbalances, inflamed by [Chancellor of the Exchequer] George Osborne’s austerity measures, could see student protests snowball into a wider movement of youth discontent.
Generational politics is undoubtedly on the rise. This year has already seen the publication of two books on the subject: David Willett’s The Pinch… and the indispensable Jilted Generation by Ed Howker and Shiv Malik. Though both texts are cautious in directing blame, they set out solid and well sourced arguments for a nation that has lost touch with generational obligations. From housing and PFi to pensions and education, the picture that emerges is one of rampant asset stripping from both past and future. The primary losers, throughout, are young people.
Students and police clash in the streets of London.
High Cost of Housing
Nowhere is the divide between young and old more stark than on the issue of housing. In over 60% of local authority districts, buying a home is unaffordable for those on average salary. Fuelled by the opening up of the buy-to-let market and the supply of easy credit, average house prices more than tripled between 1997 and 2009 (Jilted Generation). In terms of generational share, the proportion of homeowners aged 34 or under has declined from 51% in 1990 to just 29% in 2010. Young people have been effectively priced out of the market. Far from this being a cause of concern, ballooning house prices were endlessly cheered.
This leaves the majority of the young renting, predominantly in the private sector where the under 35s now make up over 50% of tenants (ibid). In contrast to either home ownership or renting from the social sector, private tenants not only pay considerably more for their home but also suffer the insecurity of the modern tenancy agreement. Once a twelve month contract expires, you can be moved on with a mere two months notice. From a generational perspective, whose mortgages are these tenants funding?
In the boom years, buy-to-lets could be secured with as little as an 11% deposit. Combined with a favourable tax regime, this was the ideal market for the asset rich boomers but disastrous for young people. The extensive social housing constructed in the post-war years was largely sold off under Thatcher’s ‘right to buy,’ moving the nation’s assets from public to private hands. The failure to replenish the stock of social housing is another significant contributor to the current housing shortage. What was inherited was not passed on.
“Flexible” Labour Market