By Chris Powers – YEM UK International Officer
To be fairly blunt: the younger generations have been well and truly screwed over by the Age of Austerity, and with Gideon Osbourne’s budget announcement on 8th July, things are only getting worse.
The youth unemployment rate is the highest it has been for a long time. Spain, a country that was hit hard by a recession in no way caused by itself, was prescribed austerity remedies that led it to being possible the worst country to live in in terms of job prospects. In 2013 for example, the Guardian reported that the youth unemployment rate had hit a shocking 56.1%. It’s gradually recovering but it isn’t great. From what I can find in terms of population data this figure of 7.5 million is 1 in 8. That’s not great, and it must be improved.
There’s been a lot of talk about apprenticeships etc to help youth but more needs to be done, as it always does. Of those youth that are in a job, they’re treated worse than they’ve ever been before. In the UK, cue the proliferation of zero-hours contracts leading to insecurity of income for many of the poorest, and the Chancellor’s promise to give over 25s a £9 per hour wage from 2020, but who cares about the youth? Gideon’s answer to this seems to basically be to sponge off mum and dad, yet many young people are without a mum and/or a dad, let alone a pair that are able to support another adult.
One solution to avoiding being part of this depressing statistic for young people has been to flock to university. If they can’t move into a job and be a proud, fully contributing member of society, they can at least become a bit more employable and enlightened at the same time. On this front, there have been a couple of rays of sunlight, for example the decision in Germany to make university tuition FREE (kudos Lower Saxony for catching up to the rest). However, the story is far from positive across the board.
Living up to its role as chief villain in the European Union, the UK trebled its tuition fees to £9000 a year, and it’s now looking like the cap will be lifted altogether. Add to that the fact that any maintenance support will come in the form of loans rather than grants, and it becomes apparent that the British government of the 2010s is committed to reinforcing inequality of opportunity. Oh, and if you don’t go to university, and can’t find a job, then you can’t get any housing benefit to tide you over either. It’s therefore no surprise that homelessness too has become an issue, and, along with migrants, young people are among the worst affected.
The diagnosis is that things are getting worse with no obvious sign they will get better. We need positive investment in Europe’s economy to trigger growth and a rise in standards of living, yet we are faced with austerity, cuts, and victim-blaming. We need safety nets and automatic stabilisers, at the very time they’re being disposed of. We also need new approaches too that give youth the mobility to adapt to a Europe of remote jobs in remote places. For example, in my college there has been an influx of Spanish people working in the dinner hall. They’re all very friendly, and they were all driven here by necessity. They’ve told me about some of the challenges associated with moving to a new country, and particularly the challenge they have risen to, of becoming fluent in another language. Therefore, one of my favourite examples of a policy to help youth employment has been one put forth by JEF France who have called for all young people to have the chance to be able to go abroad and experience another place. Another would be to really encourage and emphasise language education in schools. They’re becoming ever more important, and as a cheeky side note from me: if there are any Polish speakers out there who want to help get the Duolingo course up and ready, please do, I’m heading to Warsaw in September!
To summarise my thoughts on this topic, there are some forward looking organisations, like JEF France and the European Youth Forum. There is better technology than ever to help us overcome the barriers to employment (such as Duolingo) yet at the same time these are being undermined by regressive economic policies in our Union. Only when we’ve got a credible strategy to grow, and distribute said growth a little more fairly, will we all have the freedom to not merely survive, but live.
By Chris Powers – International Officer of YEM UK (firstname.lastname@example.org)