Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 2 September 2014

The kids are alright... and can teach us a thing or two

Old policies: George Osborne

Others in Royal Avenue have worked a lot harder on our series running all this week called The Young, not least the eight brilliant students we have in here who are our guest editors. But I did come up with the idea after listening to a radio phone-in show from London about three months ago.

Caller after caller bemoaned their lot. Like me, they were all middle-aged, and many older. While some had justifiable gripes, I was struck by much of the intemperate language, the prejudice and the sheer mean spiritedness of what they had to say. Decades of disillusion had curdled their worldview. No one under the age of 30 came on. I switched off before I became too depressed. Later that night I went with my son and a group of his friends to see a band in Belfast. I was there purely as the banker and, to be fair, they didn't do much to hide the fact.

Apart from having the natural enthusiasm of youth, what struck me most was that these boys and girls were so gracious and funny and without rancour.

And yet here they were, piling up student debt the like of which we would not have tolerated in our day, because the UK Government thinks they are fair game to pay thousands of pounds for something we had for virtually nothing.

Here they were facing a jobs market that looks for the next decade to be fragile, temporary and minimum wage. Here they were facing ever-increasing rents, because they have no hope of getting on the housing ladder.

Here they were facing a future of paying for the good times they didn't even enjoy. And yet, like all young people, they thought not of tomorrow. And the gig was great.

Now, I'm not saying the evidence of a radio talk show and a night on the town make a conclusive case, but to me it seems that when our young are not being discriminated against by our policymakers they are being demonised by others like never before.

Across the UK, their lack of cohesion as a political force does for them. In the recent Budget the coalition's big idea was to free up pension pots for those approaching retirement age. Plenty of votes in making that group a little richer, you'd say.

Forget that the general taxpayer contributes to everyone's pension pots. But what did George Osborne have to say about the young? Can you remember? I can't.

We ignore climate change. They won't be able to. We might get half-decent pensions. They might never be able to stop working. I declare an interest on student tuition fees. Both my sons are English and are charged £9,000 a year for their higher education, not including their living loans.

It's an eye-watering scandal in an age of multinational corporation tax avoidance, consultancies filling their boots by stating the bleeding obvious and Government ministers claiming tens of thousands of pounds in expenses for second homes.

The difference between what their "elders and betters" are telling the young to do and what they themselves are trying to get away with has, perhaps, never been more grotesquely stark.

How do they put up with it? On the evidence at that gig, I'd say by grabbing at life with both hands, pushing anxiety as far into the corner as they can and remaining incredibly generous of spirit towards those who misunderstand them.

Given the choice of going to that gig or ringing in to that radio station, I'd know what I'd rather do. Providing I had my wallet with me, of course.

Mike Gilson is Editor of the Belfast Telegraph

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