Illustration by Adam Q

Young life: Starting from behind

I can't help but feel resentful about generational unfairness. But the Tories, not boomers, are the cause of my ire
May 12, 2022

When I was a child, nothing seemed fair. I would complain to my parents that it wasn’t fair that I couldn’t have ice cream for supper, or adopt 10 dogs, or play Neopets instead of going to school. When I was a grown-up, I thought, things would finally be fair.

But now that I am a grown-up (sort of), things seem less fair than they ever were. My parents probably hear me say “it’s not fair” more often now than they did 20 years ago. When my dad went to university, he received a grant and paid no tuition fees. When my mum was in her twenties, she bought her own place in Dulwich. Meanwhile, I owe student finance over £60,000 (admittedly, it’s unlikely I’ll ever earn enough to repay this in full) and fork over the lion’s share of my income every month just to have a mould-speckled roof above my head. It’s not fair! Of course, in some ways, my generation is very lucky. We’re lucky to have Airbnb, Uber, Netflix and Deliveroo. But while small luxuries like these have never been so accessible, it seems that the basics have wriggled increasingly out of reach.

Every generation thinks they’re the hardest done by, but you can’t ignore the facts: Gen Z is the loneliest and most anxious generation alive today. The birth rate is falling largely because young people can’t afford nappies, feeding bottles or childcare on top of their own living costs. We either hand over our savings to private landlords for a bedroom ridden with damp or spend our twenties tiptoeing round our parents’ homes because getting on the property ladder is impossible.

Things have been bad before—the Winter of Discontent in 1978-1979, for instance—but official forecasts are predicting that we’re about to experience something worse, as living costs have soared to absurd levels while wages have stagnated. The current economic crisis will undoubtedly hit the young and old alike, and it will hit the poor the hardest. Young people are more likely to live in poverty than previous generations, with many in low-paid jobs or insecure work.

Social scientist Bobby Duffy argues in his recent book, Generations, that it’s unproductive to perpetuate stereotypes. The idea that baby boomers are greedy and selfish—as well as wilfully ignorant of the fact that luck, and not smart decisionmaking, explains their greater financial security—is as unhelpful as the trope that young people are entitled, narcissistic snowflakes. We have no control over the circumstances we’re born into, after all. So I can’t be too angry at boomers for owning over half of all UK housing wealth—had I been alive 50 years ago, I might have bought a house too.

It makes more sense to direct my indignation at the Conservative politicians who have been in power for over a decade and created these exquisitely hostile conditions: David Cameron for trebling tuition fees and squandering the government’s youth budget, Rishi Sunak for hitting graduates with a “stealth” tax rise, Boris Johnson for…well, everything.

The Tories’ eyes have always been on the rear-view mirror, forgetting to focus on the road ahead. They’re happy to open another Beatles museum while butchering the welfare state that gave the Fab Four the financial security they needed to pursue music. They preserve Shakespeare’s Globe while cutting arts funding and denouncing drama as a “Mickey Mouse degree.” For a government that is so concerned with “celebrating British heritage,” they’re awfully reluctant to invest in the future—and by extension, the young.