RIshi Sunak faced questions from MPs on the Commons Treasury committee this month about his budget, which combines emergency support schemes from Covid with the biggest tax increases since 1993. And while it’s right to question his plans to cut tax universal credit increase of £ 20 a week after six months or to find out why 39 of the 45 cities that will benefit from the new £ 1 billion ‘city fund’ are represented by Tory MPs, I couldn’t help but see an oversight obvious in much of the post-budget discussion: where what are the proposed policies to help youth?
Search through Sunak budget speech, and you won’t find a word related to “kids,” “graduates,” or even “teens.” And although “young” appeared in relation to the promoted “kickstart scheme”It is clear that the chancellor has little interest in the generations below him. Statistics from the LSE Center for Economic Performance show that 16-25 year olds will experience worse job market outcomes in terms of job loss, joblessness, and loss of income during and after closure. They were more than twice as likely as older employees to have suffered job losses, and six out of 10 saw their earnings fall.
The coronavirus has brought poverty, inequality, work and housing to the fore. Amid the noise of the budgetary policy change, debated by two political parties for which many young people have little time, I think of my 12-year-old cousin, whose adolescence will turn into a baptism of fire.
“I’ve learned more by watching YouTube and TikTok than ever in school,” he jokes about Zoom. I asked him how it felt to be back in an educational setting after a fairly interrupted school year: “I’m not happy. I like to learn, but I never liked school anyway. It’s a waste of time.”
Tough, but fair, and not exactly a revelation. I remember spending much of my teens sulking in parks and drinking too much. The only difference between his alleged delinquency and mine is that I had the privilege of making my silly decisions at a youth club or at a friend’s house. The latter was seized for a year by the pandemic; the first for the austerity policy.
But isn’t austerity over for young people? Far from there. Public spending and indebtedness continue to increase for the central government. But when you look at funding locally, the story is different. According to the National Audit Office, the vast majority of English councils (94%) expect to cut spending next year. The watchdog observes a decade of austerity for the city and local government, which has reduced the purchasing power of municipalities by a third at a time when demand for services has exploded. Meanwhile, the Public Accounts Committee says in a report published in January that city councils have been taking on “extremely risky debt levels in recent years” investing in commercial ventures “in an effort to shore up dwindling finances.”
This means that young people, in particular, are entering a period of “environmental austerity.” Without decent services for young people, they are forced to wander through shabby urban centers, aspirations are stunted and self-esteem is weakened. This neglect has been boiling over for years. There was, for example, the 2015 budget, which ruled that anyone between the ages of 18 and 21 could no longer claim the housing benefit; and the fact that while higher education was free or relatively cheap for much of the political class, graduates now have to pay a significantly higher tax rate than undergraduates (and that’s not to mention the interest rates graduates are charged on your loans).
So what would an imaginative and forward-thinking government do to help young people? The chaos in schools in England during the pandemic should prompt us to rethink the very nature of education, which is highly quantified and relies on exams – the perfect conditions for creating mental health crises among young people. How many schoolchildren are forced to keep their heads down and pass challenging tests, only to find in adulthood that test scores are no longer considered a benchmark in the workplace or in life? Education could be reinvented with a focus on a broader curriculum, skillful use of creativity, and a greater focus on well-being.
Then there are the graduates who compete in a market with record layoffs, and a 23% reduction in entry-level jobs. Those who have come of age in the pandemic will be struggling with other graduates who have been looking for work since the previous academic year; everyone is lowering their expectations. No amount of polished resumes will solve this – the answer is not in being part of the debate team, going abroad for a year, or earning a top-level degree. It is based on a substantial investment in safe and well-paying jobs in future-proof industries and in solving the housing crisis by strengthening the rights of tenants and increasing the provision of social housing.
When I ask my cousin what she wants for the future, she clearly answers: “I don’t know. Why did we get here in the first place? “And that’s the point: why, over and over again, do we choose to chart the ladder for generations after us?
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism