On England's green and pleasant land, we young are the nameless cash cows from which the older generations suckle and abuse. If our future were not bleak already, April's National Insurance rise will be the latest upgrade to the milk machine this year. For, in the promise of subsidising social care, tax contributions as a percentage of GDP will breach 35% for the first time in over 80 years.
It comes at an arduous occasion. When our udders are already strained and tense with inflation, unemployment, debt and rent. On top of this year's 7% inflation, the cost of living for the young has risen by 16% versus 2008. Independently, just last year, house prices increased a staggering 11.8%, ensuing in a 9% rise in rents regardless of the halt to our economy. This comes as the job market sees a 23% reduction in entry-level jobs coupled with record redundancies among the young, leading 37% of young people to take out loans through credit cards, overdrafts, and loan sharks. As a consequence, the average debt ratio for young people now reaches 70% as compared to 11% for 60-64-year-olds. And all of this takes place while *one quarter* of British pensioners acquire millionaire status as measured by household wealth. But despite all of this, it is up to us young, who have suffered the worst economic and social consequences of the 18-month lockdown, who will be paying off the pandemic fallout for decades to come, and who will feel the blow of the latest tax rise to our lives far more profoundly, to pick up the pieces and subsidise care for the older, far wealthier, generations. It is backwards. Instead of a mother feeding her hungry calves, it is the calves whose produce is fed to the fat parents. The source of the milk is written on the bottle and yet the elders shrug their shoulders. If they did protest, their cries were only brief before their fade into quiet indifference. They have forgotten what youth looks like and have lost their appetite for change. So who now can we rely on to speak for the young? Who now do we look towards to help balance the scales of fairness? For if we have succeeded in building Jerusalem over the years, then it has been on the backs of the young: be it cheap labour, be it war. And if in 2022, it isn't our physical bodies that are sacrificed anymore, it is our financial stability, hopes and future aspirations that are maligned. The National Insurance rise is just the latest bus the young have been thrown under, and there are hundreds of buses queued up around the corner. To stop them, we need a voice, loud and clear.
Traditionally, the opposing political parties have claimed the voice of the young. Until the dramatic failure of Nick Clegg's coalition with the Conservatives, The Liberal Democrats proved a popular choice amongst the disenfranchised young pining for political relevance. Their manifesto, committing to abolish tuition fees and improve living standards, earned the party a vote share of every 1 in 5 ballots cast. But after achieving joint power, it took just 2 years to betray the confidence of the young; bouncing back to the same old story - neglect and disregard. Since then, despite its victories in the local elections, the Liberal Democrats' national vote share has more than halved, barely budging beyond 10%. Some may claim that this is retribution for the young, but without a viable voice in Parliament, our prospects have simply worsened. Indeed, only 18% of young people now have a positive outlook on their future. Results from an Autumn 2021 survey of 2000 young people only compounded this sentiment, with 90% of young people declaring concerns about stable work, 4 in 5 reporting a significant negative impact on their mental wellbeing due to government policy on COVID, and 4 in 5 again, expressing serious doubts about their rent and housing security. In a glimmer of hope against many of the issues facing the young, came a resurgence of the Labour Party under Corbyn. His 2017 youth-focused agenda saw the majority of the young respond with the highest voter turnout for over 25 years in his support. Under Starmer's leadership, however, and until the end of the pandemic, voter turnout had rebounded to a measly 43% and confidence in the party plummeted. Despite Labour's most recent positive polling on the back of a somewhat improvement in their image, nobody still knows what Labour sincerely stands for. Can you even give just three points of policy under Labour? During the pandemic, they agreed on every stance the Conservatives had, and since, their position has been more or less aligned with the Tories too. If it weren't for Boris's blunders, there would be little differentiation between the two. And when policy is king, what is the purpose of the Labour Party?
If Labour's actions are to go by, then they exist to defy youth, as apparent by their seemingly active war against the young which was exemplified in a recent attack upon its Young Labour wing. Just on the onset of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, Keir Starmer axed Young Labour's conference, cut its funding, and suspended access to their Twitter account after it suggested he was "backing NATO aggression". This comes just a few months after a prior incident in which, in a letter to the chair of Labour's youth, Jess Barnard, the Labour seniority, explained that she was under investigation for "hostile or prejudice" conduct in reference to a couple of tweets in 2020 where she announced that she would be blocking "trans-exclusionary radical feminists" (TERFs) on Twitter. The row came as Bernard publicly shamed the Labour Party for rejecting calls of support to hold a youth conference and banned Jeremy Corbyn from addressing any potential audience in defiance of their will.
These may be contentious issues, but regardless of your opinion on NATO, "TERFs", Jeremy Corbyn or Young Labour itself, such clear disregard for the opinions of the youth wing, the elected representative of Young Labour, and by extension a portion of the U.K.'s youth, visibly demonstrates Labour's indifferent attitude towards young people whose vote share is essential to any Labour election victory and whose lives have been hammered and battered for over a decade. If Labour were to win a general election, what does this say about how they will treat the perspectives of the young? The sad reality is that the young's electoral ballot as a method of change is destined to fail, even if their preferred party prevails on the day. So who then takes the mic and speaks for the young?
In the age of social media, some would argue that this responsibility is now each individual's problem. For who needs a party or movement to speak for someone when they can contact anyone within an instant?
Social media has given a voice to anyone who wants it. And with 70% of young people leveraging social media daily, the platform is buzzing with eyes and ears which may be receptive to those who speak up. But despite unprecedented access to an audience, most voices bounce into oblivion within their own algorithmically reinforced echo chambers. Indeed, a study of 2000 Twitter users identifying as either Labour, Tory, UKIP or SNP supporters found that they are significantly more likely to follow, interact and share articles from those that share their same views. The dangers of such confirmation bias to distort truths are well-documented. But even if we can overcome that, the nature of existing within an echo chamber by virtue of its chamber is that any political voice we are granted bounces within it. And for those rare voices that break out of their chambers, an ocean of words from a billion users dissolves them. It is as if each youth is standing on a stage and speaking into a jar; the few muffled words that are picked up by the mic are amplified to a head-phoned and unsympathetic audience. Only the loudest voices can break through the headphones - and for the "traditional" media, such headphones are an obstacle like a ravine to a bird.
As if a stable ship on ever-changing waters, "traditional" media still manages to reach much of the audience it once dominated. For young people, this reach is via social media platforms. Despite the majority of young people accessing news from Twitter first, the platform also leads users to get information from websites of major news organisations such as the BBC, The Daily Mail, or The Guardian. As the go-to organisations, these outlets carry tremendous responsibility as arbiters of truth, microphones of agendas, and pilots of country-wide conversation. To serve the young in these roles, they must advocate for topics the young are interested in, shed light on issues that impact them, and provide the perspective of the youth. The substantial underrepresentation (4%) of young people in media positions where they can affect change can be circumvented by empathy. But the apparent neglect of young people through misrepresentation of the young, or ignorance of issues that impacts them, points to a significant shortage of empathy which follows through into their reporting, or failure to report, in the case of the National Insurance rise. A recent survey, for example, revealed that almost half of the British public know little or nothing about the tax increase and how it will involve them. And while there are some reports detailing the impacts of the rise, a quick Google search will surface next-to-no opposition to the rise and almost zero anger on behalf of the young who will be unduly afflicted by it. To put it into context, for any of us on minimum wage, the National Insurance increase equates to an additional £112.00 that will be lifted from our bank balance. And coupled with the upcoming reduction in Universal Credit payments, we will soon be £1,082 a year worse off. And for those of us lucky to be in work who have graduated from university, on top of the 9% tax we owe in student loan repayments comes an additional 2.5% in National Insurance contributions; all culminating in an effective tax rate of just under 50%. This is nearly 10% higher than the effective tax rate for the same young person in 1980. All this to say that we are the highest taxed generation our age bracket has ever had, exacerbated by a period of inflationary chaos.
Should more issues sanction an easy solution, let us not be surprised if the young are picked on first
It is a simple enough explanation for such a serious subject, which makes the media's indifference all the more a travesty. But as long as the media giants remain stable, there is no hope of change. Buses will be dragged out of the depot and directed towards our bodies, yet no outlet will bat an eyelid. Its coupling with a discriminate government paints a depressing picture. Amidst worsening knife crime; property ownership; natural disasters; education; social stability; mental health, and financial freedom, govern a party whose cabinet does not care. In the last election, just 22% of young people voted Conservative. In contrast, 80% of the over-65s voted for Boris. He survived the recent coup to his leadership. His re-election is secured as long as he keeps the affluent elders happy - and using the young's money to pay for their care is a sure way to put a smile on their faces. Should more issues sanction an easy solution, and there are severe problems on the horizon, let us not be surprised if the young are picked on first. Calves, after all, are at the mercy of the farmers, and our farmers do not care. Our only hope, perhaps, is to seek pastures anew.