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My first Pass notes for the Guardian was about how Generation Y were left almost entirely out of the budget. Read it and weep.
Same old stuff: George Osborne with his budget case of broken dreams and orphans’ tears. Photograph: Suzanne Plunkett
Appearance: A red box of broken dreams and orphans’ tears.
Oh dear, I’m not going to like this, am I? Well, it depends – are you a pensioner?
No. Do you have a job?
I’m applying for lots of them. Do you have thousands of pounds in savings?
Course I bloody don’t. Then no, you’re not going to like it.
Ugh. Lay it on me. It’s a budget “for savers”, and people with savings tend to be old people. In fact, scratch that – given that times are hard all round, people with savings tend to be rich old people.
I’m amazed a Tory chancellor would only cater to the old and rich. Indeed. This budget is an absolute dream for pensioners.
The ones who vote? Yes.
I’m pleased for them. Is there anything in the budget for young people? Yes! George mentioned young people in his speech, um, once. He claimed to have doubled the number of apprenticeships, and promised to “extend grants for smaller businesses to support over 100,000 more”.
Oh, that will help! How many unemployed young people are there again? More than 900,000.
What?! I thought unemployment had fallen? It has, but the numbers are a bit misleading. There’s been a dramatic rise in self-employment, as all those go-getters take matters into their own hands. But the number of employees has dropped by 60,000 – and there are 38,000 fewer young people in work now compared with a year ago.
Still … it’s nice for the old people. Very nice indeed – analysts are saying that changes to pension rules could lead to a massive surge in the purchasing of buy-to-lets, and guess who they’ll be renting them out to, for ever?
Us? Yep. For ever and ever.
So young people aren’t exactly a massive priority? Doesn’t look like it. A quick search in the budget reveals the word “young” is mentioned three times, whereas the word “pension” is mentioned 151 times.
I’m sad now. Don’t worry – they’re also cutting tax on alcohol.
Do say: “Cheaper beer and apprenticeships? Things are looking up!”
Don’t say: “Do a search on the words ‘heartless’ and ‘bastards’.”
When you’re unemployed, the world doesn’t look the same as it does for everybody else. Ads are taunting you, price tags are mocking you. If you have ever wondered why a jobless young person opens a seemingly harmless website and sighs, sobs or swears, read on – here’s what they’re seeing.
Words by Erica Buist. Produced by Harry Slater
Still pinching herself that her blog about being jobless (may have) landed her this job as a trainee journalist, in our second instalment Erica Buist describes a typical day in which getting retweeted by blokes named Ricky from Reading take the rote out of the routine
There is no typical day at the Guardian. The 10 trainees have wildly different backgrounds, skills, qualifications and jobs. We sit at different desks, go to different meetings, pitch and work on different ideas, projects and campaigns with different departments and flow between them all. The only typical thing is the messiness of my desk. There’s a near-empty capless Evian bottle that my workmate and I are too polite to throw away, each of us assuming it must belong to the other.
However, I will attempt to give an idea of what goes on once we bleep our way into the Kings Cross offices …
9am – Plonk myself at my desk. Yes, plonk. It’s way too early in the day to simply sit myself down with the grace of a smug ballet dancer. Somewhere between logging on and perusing the news for feature ideas, I blink in disbelief. I have a job. In 2014. At one of the only newspapers I never want to fling across a room. How?
I got hired on the Guardian digital journalism scheme because of my blog, How to Be Jobless. Flabbergasted that I wasn’t immune to the job crisis affecting a million other young people, many of them as or more qualified than me, I started blogging anonymously, hoping to turn my jobless bleatings into something that would entertain people in the same position. Somehow, it worked. A little community of jobless, underemployed and thoroughly peeved young people built up, we nicknamed ourselves the pyjama-army, or “pyjarmy”, and I became the unofficial voice of the jobless youth. I like to think I’m here because Alan Rusbridger liked my blog, but it’s just as possible he hated it and thought giving me a job might be the ticket to shutting me up.
10am – Morning conference. Open to all staff, people wander in and gather on the soft yellow sofas, chatting away. When word gets out that Alan has started speaking we all hush and lean in to hear. (It sounds like we’re in a big room – we’re not, Alan just has a very soft voice. Other bosses get “Kick me” signs stuck on them; it’s about time someone stuck a tiny microphone on Alan.) He tells us about the Guardian’s online performance the day before, and section editors announce their departments’ content for the day.
Sometimes, guests are invited to talk (off the record, so no details, sorry!) about their organisations. At my second ever conference at the Guardian, the guest was Steve Coogan. I didn’t get to speak to him but I hugged him with my eyes. I don’t think he noticed.
11am – On the best type of day, someone will say to me, “Here’s a topic. We need you to write something funny on it, by lunchtime.” I used to do standup comedy, but found I preferred not looking at the audience, especially in dank underground comedy clubs on weeknights when I had a perfectly good pair of pyjamas at home. Now, if I write something serious, I have to comb through it picking out the jokes like bits of gum stuck in a child’s hair.
1-2pm – Lunch in the subsidised canteen, which serves as much kale as you imagine the Guardian canteen would.
2-5pm – Apart from writing, editing, pitching and researching, the afternoon usually involves an informal meeting with colleagues, as there’s always a project to discuss.
Once I was in a meeting and I took a sneaky glance at my phone. I had a Facebook message from a friend: “Ricky tweeted your article!”
What kind of message is that? Who the hell is Ricky? I typed a reply.
“Ricky Martin?” I joked, “That’s nice of him.”
“Not Ricky Martin, Ricky GERVAIS.”
I don’t know why, but I burst out laughing. It seemed absurd, yet it’s quite ordinary. Ricky Gervais is just a bloke. Of course he reads a newspaper. Why wouldn’t he tweet a story he sees? Especially one that happens to be about a service that streams his shows.
Ironically, that article was a learning curve for me. I was shadowing the TV editor for a day and felt particularly ignorant as I don’t have a TV. Even though your job as a journalist is to try to be an expert in whatever you happen to be writing about, I told the editor I only had Netflix, so blog ideas were unnervingly scarce. After some mad research to familiarise myself with the minefield of weirdness that is British television, she said “Why don’t you write about the fact that you have Netflix, and no TV?”
The experience taught me something important: there’s always an idea (and sometimes a bloke from Reading will share it).
It’s easy to forget the reach you have when you go from your own blog to a Guardian one, because on the face of it, the procedure is the same. You fact check, you spell check, you consider the reader, you link to relevant pages and sources, you publish. You reply “thank you” to kind comments. You try to ignore or laugh off the abusive ones. You get the bus home.
Which I do, around 5:30 or 6pm. But today wasn’t a typical day, not even by Guardian standards. Because today I made a breakthrough. I shook things up. I took a stand.
I threw out that Evian bottle.
It’s that time again, folks: the tri-annual “unemployed young people are job snobs” festival. Pull on your wellies so we can all squelch in the mud of the same old nonsensical, prejudiced accusation. This time it comes from the employment minister, Esther McVey, who says young people must be prepared to lower their ambitions to get on in their careers. “You could be working at Costa,” she helpfully suggests, adding that young Britons are less prepared for the world of work than foreign migrants and “need to learn the basics”, such as turning up on time.
I wouldn’t want to be in McVey’s shoes right now – I’d rather work at Costa, as baristas don’t have to open the papers every morning and read about what a terrible job they’re doing. Instead, McVey is presiding over the highest youth unemployment levels since 1993: 941,000 people aged between 16 and 24 are out of work, 282,000 of whom have been jobless for a year or more. Her solution? Deflect the blame from the government, tap into the nation’s ageism and blame unemployed young people.
I take issue with this. To begin with, “young Britons don’t turn up on time” is quite a generalisation for a group several million strong. Can you really gauge a person’s timekeeping abilities by how recently they were born? Perhaps the assertion that foreign migrants are better prepared for the world of work has more to do with the fact that the desperation that sent them thousands of miles from home makes them easier to exploit, underpay and overwork.
This may come as a shock, but there aren’t 941,000 jobs going at Costa Coffee. Unemployment is soaring because demand for jobs exceeds availability. To hear McVey, you’d think the coffee chain was understaffed, managers bleating desperately for applications, tumbleweed blowing over the espresso machines. Yet a new branch of Costa in Mapperley, Nottingham, received 1,701 applications for eight positions after advertising in early December. I don’t know who got the jobs, but the coffee must be amazing.
McVey said jobseekers must be reminded that they have to “start at the bottom and work their way up”, rather than “expecting to walk into their dream job”. How fantastically patronising. Walking into our dream job is hardly an expectation in today’s intern-eat-intern world of work. That said, don’t tart up working at Costa as “starting at the bottom”, as if it’s a career move. Unless you’re going into coffee shop management, it isn’t. “Starting at the bottom” implies you’re at the foot of a ladder you intend to climb. Call it what it is: a low-paid stop-gap, a way to survive financially without benefits while chipping our way into the industry we’re actually qualified for – something plenty of young people are doing.
Also, we already started at the bottom. Our parents and teachers asked what we wanted to be when we grew up, and held it to ransom. We spent countless hours in meaningless exams: GCSEs, AS-levels, A-levels, BAs, MAs, even PhDs; not forgetting the unpaid internships (yet another barrier between us and employment) – because these were sold as tickets to where we wanted to go.
And now we’re snobs for wishing those miserable years had paid off. At this juncture, the only honest thing a politician could say about youth unemployment is: “We messed up the economy, you will not be getting what we promised you’d get in exchange for the years spent becoming educated, qualified and willing.”
If I were a babyboomer, I’d be furious. That might seem strange coming from someone who blogs about youth unemployment, a topic typically sprinkled with jealous references to how easy our parents had it (admittedly, a temptation I gave into once or twice). But this “us and them” dynamic between the generations has got to stop. And not just because, admittedly, they’re beating us – this isn’t me quitting because the game is unfair. I’ve expended enough energy denouncing David Cameron as a heartless, corporate-driven, boiled egg-faced tit; it’s time for some fury from the other side. It’s time for some babyboomer rage.
Every blow to the young – such as the slashing of benefits unless we’re earning (despite the lack of jobs) or learning (despite the whacking up of tuition fees) – seems to come with a boost for the older generation, like a triple-lock on state pensions. Chris Huhne argues that because thevoting turnout is more than 30% higher in the pensioner age group than the 18-24s, politicians pander to them to the point that we’re living an a “gerontocracy”. It’s a clever illusion, that they’re rewarding the older generations, their “loyal voters”, at the expense of the young – but an illusion it is.
To begin with, triple-locked or not, pensions aren’t a gift from the taxpayer. They’re pre-earned. They’re as much a generosity as having a party in a stranger’s house, and saying: “Sorry about the damage. We triple-promise not to steal anything (else).”
But the pension triple lock isn’t even decent “compensation” for the collateral damage of the youth crisis. In her smart and sensitive comment piece, Jackie Ashley argued that “an injury to one is an injury to all” because we live in families, which are by their nature multigenerational. But the injury casued to the older generations by the youth crisis is even more direct and blunt than familial concern. Has nobody noticed how often a blow to the younger generation leads to babyboomers footing the bill?
The generation we have been repeatedly told to envy are the first who have to care for the generations either side of them – not only their parents who may need help in their old age, but their adult children. When young people were stripped of job opportunities, benefits, and the affordable roofs we so naively thought would come with our degrees, we became the Boomerang Generation. In the past decade and a half, according to the Economist, about 3.2 million 20- to 34-year-olds have gone back to live with mum and dad.
It is sad for the young people who probably envisaged a more independent life and can be horrendous for their sense of self-worth – but it’s not brilliant for parents either. Having their adult children back is like a middle-class bedroom tax – the government haven’t fixed the economy, the housing or job markets, so they’ve passed the cost of the generation on to the boomers.
Aside from the financial burden, the youth crisis must pack a nasty emotional punch to the older generation because through no fault of their own, they’ve failed as parents, in part.
They did everything they were supposed to; they sent us to school and university, convinced us to study so we’d have the freedom to choose our careers. Yet the result is a generation facing unemployment, or career ascension so slow and internship-ridden they may never afford to buy a house or have a family of their own. Was it their aim to spawn Generation Jobless who, according to World Health Organisation, are apublic health timebomb? Of course not. The most fundamental aim of parenting is surely to make sure your kid will be OK. Isn’t it maddening that, despite doing everything right, they’re not?
So how does a 2.5% increase in pre-earned state pensions, a cynical lunge for the rudely named “grey vote”, make up for any of that? It doesn’t. But by focusing all the visible damage on the young who so famously “don’t vote”, the generations are being divided and conquered. The “selfish, shortsighted old” versus the hard done-by young. God forbid we should all fight for the same thing – a stable economy, a functioning job market, houses we could conceivably end up buying without a nifty inheritance-tax dodge, a winning lottery ticket or an act of God. Maybe if we did, boomers wouldn’t refer to their own money as “the kids’ inheritance”, as if they’ve already outstayed their welcome just by continuing to live alongside their struggling offspring.
The “mustn’t grumble” generation need to start fuming along with the young. Like it or not, an angry generation of 18 to 24-year-olds is a nuisance; at this point the only clout we could claim would be a mass withholding of grandchildren. But an angry mob of babyboomers might actually effect change. Let’s see some boomer rage for the raw deal we’ve all been dealt.