Earning or learning?


Trying to make some sense of the Prime Minister’s announcement on those under-25.

The transcript of David Cameron’s speech is here. Foxy’s mischievous take on his speech is here. It came across as a very ‘Political’ speech – designed to press the buttons of certain sections of society but not others. One of the things that the three main parties have done is focussed on this group of people otherwise known as ‘hard working families’ – something I touched upon in previous blogposts.

Who’s world view do you accept?

With political speeches in general, it’s useful to get an idea of what the speaker’s world view is. This is because that world view explains some of the more details comments made in the speech – in particular, policies. Having Cameron’s speech and Miliband’s speech to compare, this becomes more clear – especially in terms of how to handle the concept of ‘the market’. The Conservative view is that state intervention along the lines Miliband proposes will have a negative impact on investment in UK energy infrastructure. The Labour view is that citizens are suffering from high fuel prices at a time when energy companies seem to be making massive profits – therefore the market is failing and government intervention is justified.

There’s also the concept of the nation state. This came up in Cameron’s jokes about the alleged comments of a foreign diplomat, but even more so in the furore around a national daily publication turning its guns on Ed Miliband’s late father. From a party political perspective, the media storm that formed around the latter took attention away from anything party spin doctors would have wanted to present to the general public at a time when the news is one big party political broadcast for whoever is having their conference. It remains to be seen whether this is a storm in a teacup or whether the episode around Miliband’s late father will have further ramifications with all things Leveson. There are a whole host of things that a future Labour government could make difficult for media proprietors, from percentage of ownership to registered tax status of proprietors and owners.

What’s this about young people being deprived of their benefits?

Is 25 the new 18? Serious question. Serious because of the changes in the financial relationships young adults now have with their families, employers, the state, educational establishments and anyone that they might be in debt to.

Are young people being ‘infantilised’ and deprived of their independence by the state of the economy and distribution of wealth?

A loaded question, but I’m going to ask it anyway.

As far as higher education is concerned, much of the burden has shifted onto parents as a result of the scrapping of grants and the introduction of fees. Most people who have been through university without independent wealth to fall back on will know that the loans available to students barely cover accommodation costs. Therefore students either have to go out and work while studying or during holiday periods, or rely on family to provide financial support. I was lucky to have the backing of the latter and fortunate enough during my first two summers to have jobs that helped me keep things ticking over.

But having that family support inevitably keeps a level of dependency from child to parent. We see it now in adverts for mortgages – even banks are now very publicly acknowledging that parents are stumping up deposits for homes because young people cannot afford them. Those young people that cannot afford to buy have to rent, and if they cannot afford to rent (because rents ain’t cheap) are left with little alternative but to move back in with parents – like I had to. Are you a boomerang kid? I am. I don’t want to be, but both my health and the state of the economy generally don’t make things easy. (My current state in recovering from a mental health crisis means I am unable to work full time. This has a ****huge**** impact on my self-esteem amongst other things, especially given where I was four years ago).

My basic point is that without the jobs, the means to meet the essentials while studying, and the affordable housing means that life is very difficult for many young people to live independent lives.

I can’t see how depriving young people of social security payments is going to improve the situation

This for me reflects a mindset within Whitehall and Westminster politics in general – one I’ve touched upon before. Their mindset is one that has only two levers – tax/spend and legislative. Pass a law banning the under 25s from receiving certain benefits and watch government spending fall. Or so we would be led to believe. But again, as I’ve mentioned before, such policies are not without consequences. What about the single mothers under 25? Will there be additional provision for childcare to enable them to study or work? What about children leaving care – as they have to at 18. It is a very difficult transition for young people. Just because they have turned 18 does not automatically make them any less vulnerable.

One big unanswered question I’d like the political class to respond to:

“How are young people supposed to be independent and meet their costs of living while in full time education?”

Are the financial support systems in place allow young people to rent somewhere suitable – ie that won’t compromise their health, pay for food and bills and live a life that allows them to flourish at educational establishments?

Why it’s important to encourage young people to get educated and active about politics

This stuff is going to impact them.

I can’t pretend to be ‘the voice’ of young people. The way I see my role is that of informing people about how ‘the system’ functions, and allow them to make their own judgement calls. You could say it’s the civil servant in me. Policy civil servants are taught how to analyse policies. However, the conclusions that they come to won’t necessarily be the same. Give them the same pieces of information and the same analytical tools, you’ll be surprised how much variety you get in the conclusions and recommendations they make as a result.

Why what both Clegg and Blair did, matter.

Nick Clegg’s broken promise on tuition fees and Blair’s decision to go to war with Iraq demonstrated to too many young people (and people generally) that no matter how much pressure they put on national politicians, it makes no difference. My personal take was that Blair’s decision to go to war in Iraq depoliticised an entire generation of people – recalling that the march on London in February 2003 (which I went on) was one of the biggest single peacetime demonstrations in British history. And for what? The legacy of Iraq was one that persuaded Parliament to pull back from Syria and inflict a rare foreign policy defeat on a government of the day.

With Nick Clegg, what strikes me is why he chose to go along with the tuition fees policy given the sums involved (just under £3billion per year according to this estimate), versus the political hit he and his party were going to take. Bearing in mind the efforts many younger Lib Dem activists at the time put in, in the run up to the 2010 election, can you imagine the disappointment felt when the leader appears to turn around and do the complete opposite? Yes, this then leads to further questions on whether the Lib Dems should have been up front publicly about which were their policy ‘red lines’ and which were the ones they were prepared to negotiate on?

Has Cameron lost the ‘youth vote’?

You could ask: “What youth vote?” given the low levels of turnout. Yet for me, politics is far more than just about voting. Despite the cumulative impact of lots of us putting a cross on a ballot paper, the amount of time and effort expended is minimal. Yet as I’ve mentioned before, in order to get people to vote, there is a huge amount of engagement work generally that needs to be done. Not least on the issues at stake in the election along with what people’s views are. We found this out the hard way with the police and crime commissioners elections, where hardly anyone turned out.

Trying something different in Cambridge

I was at a meeting of the Cambridge Cycle Campaign recently, learning about this fantastic new Cyclescape tool. (See here). Here were a group of people knowledgeable and passionate about cycling (there were about 20-30 of us that evening) looking at and discussing various council plans for transport. It’s a vibrant, active and educated group that put together detailed proposals to (and undertake detailed scrutiny of) the local council. (See here for an example). One of the things I’m attempting on behalf of the group is some outreach work to get more young people involved as an introduction both to how local government works and also in terms of campaigning generally. The reason being that lots of young people in Cambridge cycle. Therefore, I’m hoping that more than a handful of them will be interested in a large local campaign that seeks to make cycling easier for them.

I’ll keep you posted on how it goes.


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