Thursday, 13 May 2010

New Era in Politics. But what of the 'lost generation'?

It has been a fascinating week in politics. For the first time in 65 years we are seeing a coalition in government. While I am pleased to see Gordon Brown gone, will the Lib-Con coalition be any better? As a fairly recent graduate, I am wary of this 'new politics'.

I am quite stunned to see two leaders of opposing parties getting on and making jokes in the sunny grounds of Downing Street. Admittably I have quite a lot of respect for the Cameron-Clegg love-in; there seems to be a sincerity in their approach and a realism to the vast problems facing this country. This is all very refreshing and hopeful. Surely, it is much better for parties to simply get on than to bicker, especially in the current economic climate.? So far the signs are good, the parties are united, and I do hope it lasts. However, the media are already speculating on how long this amicability will endure. I think this is mostly unsupportive and negative. After all, haven't we wanted this kind of politics before? Haven't we wanted a more open, cross-party, honest and compromising approach to government? I, personally, just want them to get on with it and be the judge as time takes its toll. And while I don't agree with certain policies in each camp, I think the centre ground looks promising.

Yet, while we should be supportive of this new kind of politics, we must also be wary. As a fairly recent graduate, who has been a victim of the recession, there are certain policies I would like to see implemented. Firstly, and let's be clear about this, tuition fees cannot rise. The prospect of graduates leaving university with up to £30,000 worth of debt is frankly ludcrious. Are we not learning the lessons of debt? Is it not simply unfeasible to allow young people to start their lives with so much debt hanging around their necks?

Some recent graduate surveys throw light on the questionable value of a degree. Why should graduates suffer such large debts when the prospects facing them after education seem so poor? For example, a recent YouGov survey shows that 58% of recent graduates are not in employment relating to their degree. A further 24% had opted to continue education to avoid the pitfalls of the job market (and further education, as I have found out, only amounts to more debt and not a significant change in employability.) Shockingly, a TotalJobs/ ONS survey reveals that only 6% of recent graduates have landed a relevant graduate job. Two-thirds of graduates have simply got any job to help pay bills and begin to tackle the debt. From my own experience, I know so many intelligent graduates who are working in bars, coffee shops or are even on the dole to help get them through this recession. There is, I feel, a great feeling of disillusionment. We are an unlucky generation.

So, for me, I feel greatly let down by Labour. New Labour in its varying forms always had education at his heart. After all, what do we remember most of Tony Blair's 1997 campaign? Oh yes: 'education, education, education.' But, while it is true that more students have gone to university than ever before, the system simply isn't working. There is a generation of young people stradled by debt and unable to find work relating to their qualifications. I myself worked incrediably hard to be the first person in my family, and extended family, ever to go to university. In was my belief that if I worked hard and gained the grades, I would land the job of my choice. Indeed, I have a degree and a postgraduate degree and yet I am on and off Jobseekers Allowance. I desperately want a job relating to my skills, and yet with debt around my neck and the current economic climate taking its course, I dare to believe I will have any luck.

This is why I think it is imperative that the Lib-Con coalition makes every effort to ensure that the next generation will not suffer in the same way. It is my belief that the Liberal Democrats policy to scrap tuition fees should see the light of day. You should be able to go to university not because you are privileged or are accepting of a lifetime of debt, but because you should be given the opportunity because you aspire to learn and grow to your strengths. For me, this ultimately means that university places will be much harder to gain. A degree needs to be held in high esteem again, like it once did, and dumbed down courses (David Beckham degree anyone?) should be abolished. This means that although it would be much tougher to secure that university place, the rewards are well-deserving and meaningful. It also means that even the poorest person can make it all the way up the education ladder, minus the worries of funding and future debts. It means, ultimately, that the country's workforce are made up of a class of people who worked hard to get to their position, and that their skills best suit the need in society. At the moment, who's to know that the best engineer the country has ever seen is stuck at home, unable to find work because he is 1) laden with debt or 2) needs expendable income to gain valuable experience at an internship or 3) has taken any old job just to make ends meet. I think it is of uttermost importance that the Liberal Democrats get their way and that the Conservatives are not allowed to raise tuition fees. Otherwise, we will be educating only the privileged classes or quite simply letting down the poorest who just want to succeed.

On top of this, it is also important that the LibDem's policy to suspend income tax under £10,000 be implemented. Why? Because it is unfair to allow any recent graduates to pay taxes on the first £10,000 they earn while trying to make ends meet. If it is true that two-thirds of recent graduates are in any job to pay the bills, then why should we be taxing them on top of the Student Loans, the large overdrafts and credit card bills to pay off? In my case, I am well into my overdraft, I have credit card bills to pay (which my parent is helping to pay off) and I have the prospect of one day chipping away at my Student Loan. I am in this state of affairs because I opted to take a Masters degree, as I was under the impression that a postgraduate qualification would stand me in a far better chance to get the job I desired. Not so. Instead, I have had the misfortune of working as a barista at a well-known coffee chain, while being insulted indiscriminately, and then had to paid taxes. (I was insulted for being a 'waster'.) I have to keep telling myself that I did the right thing; that education is good. Yet, I am mostly left with a feeling of guilt and low self-esteem.

Overall, I think we should be supportive and positive for this 'new politics'. But, while Labour has let many of my generation down, I hope that the new government will aspire to improve the situation for the young and set the groundwork for better things to come. The bankers have been bailed out and are still raking in the bonuses. Who will bail out the lost generation of graduates and youngsters?

1 comment:

  1. Hi Chris,

    Good research there, I think the current state of political play is definitely going to be a waiting game of sorts, they are talking about raising the tax on student loan repayments I just heard.

    I like many others who have ridiculous towering student loans are inclined to let them sit there without any concern to pay them back formally unless I achieve a massive income rise or Lottery win. One of the get-out clauses of my Student Loan is that when I either become "Permanently disabled" or "Deceased" the entire debt is abolished. A comforting thought I live with; my next of kin won't get shafted. In fact, I don't even open the letters any more, the quarterly update on the looming interest is just too horrible to be reminded of, they get ripped up and recycled.

    The cabinet appointments are troubling, I understand that things had to be pasted together on the fly over a weekend, but there is a distinct lack of women at the table (outnumbered 5:1). William Hague in charge of foreign relations; give me a break. The least charismatic man in the nest representing the UK abroad with a big white bald head.

    Am I just getting petty now? Maybe things will be 'better' but I do find it hard to trust the blues after their rich history of racism, homophobia and oppression; these Tories now were children of Thatcher after all...lets see.

    As for Clegg, I have a hunch when he enters those powerful rooms in about two to three months, the Tories will stop talking and change the subject. I don't want to take credit from what he might be up to, he's the most charismatic one there with his exotic wife and a 5 strong multi-lingual intelligence. Just maybe he will manage to work some liberal magic within. We hope.

    Just a hunch...but we'll see.

    M x