Feeling My Age

Getting older has its drawbacks – but it's a lot better than the alternative.

Jilted Generation

“Lazy Lawless & Self-obsessed?” by Ed Howker.
Was gobsmacked by this Fourthought talk on Radio 4 recorded in Edinburgh in front of a live audience at the end of last month.


“In previous decades Britain was able to offer school and university leavers opportunities that are just not available for the young people of today. These trends are not just a function of recession: unaffordable housing and a lack of job opportunities for young people have been a feature of our economy for quite a few years. The next crop of British adults are finding their journey into society frustrated – and their lives more unstable – than any of us might have expected or hoped.

If our young adults feel like outsiders, successive governments have had a tendency to treat them that way. Just consider how recent budgets treated two opposite ends of the demographic spectru: young adults, and the retired. Britain’s young people effectively lost the Educational Maintenance Allowance, they lost housing benefits, university tuition funding was cut entirely and – thanks to the local government funding cuts – there have been squeezes on the funding of libraries and youth centres.

Meanwhile Britain’s pensioners enjoy free TV licenses, eye tests, bus passes and winter fuel payments regardless of their personal wealth. We’ve become a country that will happily pay Alan Sugar’s bus fare, but we won’t always pay for the education of our young people. And that’s a remarkable change – because in the past, politicians always championed the young.

Harold Wilson referred to their “thrusting ability and iconoclasm” which would “storm the frontiers of knowledge”. Margaret Thatcher even attributed the success of her Big Bang in the City to them. “The city’s growing confidence and drive” she said “owe a good deal to young people – people who have made it not because of who they know or what school tie they wear, but on sheer merit.”

Some people say that young people were better behaved back then… but I’m not sure the victims of the South London teddy boys in the 50s. or those who rioted in the 1980s, would have agreed. It was much easier to be young – and positive about your future – in the past because politicians took more seriously their responsibility to the next generation.

You don’t have to look back further than a few decades to find an era when ediucation was free, students even received grants, apprenticeships were abundant, jobs were more stable and plentiful, housing cheap and plentiful… In other words, at huge expense, society and government worked hard to equip their next generation…

Right-click to download the full 14 minute podcast

Ed Howker and Shiv Malik are co-authors of
Jilted Generation: How Britain has Bankrupted its Youth
Jilted Generation website

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