Best years of your life?
It’s not much fun being young at the moment. If you manage to stay in education you end up accruing large debts only to be told standards are slipping and the only reason you’ve passed is because the exams are so easy now. On the street you’re either patronised as a ‘chav’ or feared as a ‘hoodie’. Everything from the summer riots to cultural decline is down to you and your self obsessed, greedy individualism: you just can’t win.
The cherries on the top of this rancid cake are the recent announcements on youth ‘employment’. Figures published by the Department for Education (DfE) in November showed that the number of Neets has risen to a record high of 1.16 million with almost one in five 16 - 24 year olds in England ‘not in education, employment or training’ between July and September this year. “The figure was up 137,000 [a rise of 13%] on the same period last year. Just over 21% of 18 - 24 year olds are not in education, work or training” (Guardian 25/11/11). Records, demonstrated by a confusing array of statistics, may have been broken across the board - “official figures published last week show there were 1.02 million unemployed 16 to 24 year olds in the UK between July and September this year, also a record” (ibid) - but the results for young people are the same.
In response the Government has wheezed into action. Even though they “know many young people move between school, college, university and work during the summer, which explains why Neet figures are higher during this quarter” (ibid) they promise not to be complacent. This doesn’t mean that they’ll review scrapping the Education Maintenance Allowance, rethink increasing university tuition fees or reopen closed career services. No, it’s a retro response, we’re going back to the 1980s. Nick Clegg has announced a billion pounds of new funding, with the money possibly coming from a freeze in tax credits paid to working families, “to be spent over three years, [that] will provide opportunities including job subsidies, apprenticeships and work experience placements to 500,000 unemployed” (ibid). All of which sounds like the Youth Training Scheme (YTS) that were so ‘popular’ and so ‘successful’ in the 80s. If they’re lucky enough to be signed up to this ‘youth contract’ - and that may not be easy, recently there has been a 900% increase in the number of apprenticeships begun by those aged 60 and over (Guardian 14/11/11) - participants will lose their benefit and be expected to “stick with it”, whatever that may mean. And sometimes they’ll have to work to get their ‘benefits’.
While there was never a golden age for young people in capitalist society it’s impossible not to respond to these recent developments without utter contempt for those who rule us. Despite what the bourgeois press claims young workers a generation ago didn’t have it easy but there was at least the illusion that if you followed the ‘rules’, ‘played the game’ and worked or studied hard capitalism would ‘reward’ you - i.e. you would, usually, be ‘better off’ than your parent’s generation; with a little sacrifice you could own your own home and save for your retirement. With the acceleration of the crisis the same can not be said today. Young people are now faced with huge obstacles, both economically and socially, having to run merely to stand still, so it’s hardly surprising that some give up trying to ‘build’ Michael Gove’s laughable ‘aspirational nation’. Faced with, at best, an uncertain future and criticised at every turn, who’d blame them.
‘He who has youth has the future’: this phrase attributed to both Lenin and Trotsky is on one level banal, a truism, but on another it suggests something much more - the idea that young people have the ability to shape, to change their future. This idea is currently being put into practice by young people around the world in the student and Occupy movements, which despite their illusions in democracy, are a direct response to all those who want to dismiss and marginalise the young. If these movements are able to reach out to the working class they will be able to begin pose a real alternative to capitalism: communism. If that happens these just could be the best years of your life… .