On reading an article about a report suggesting that interest rates on student loans issued in the past 15 years should be increased, I sighed. If this piece of research ever forms policy, it will be the latest in a line of decisions that have been made by this government to punish the younger generation whilst leaving the Baby Boomers sitting pretty.
I need to declare an interest: I have a student loan from 2004-7 that I am still paying off. Currently, the great thing about it is that I only need to pay it off when working and earning over a certain amount in the UK. Whilst not zero, the interest is negligible and I would definitely not consider paying the loan off early. It’s cheap money and I know my finance. It’s staying put (as long as the current terms do). I (along with most others) would not have taken out a loan from a commercial bank to fund my studies, precisely because of inflexible repayment terms.
Of course, this is a very ‘middle class problem’, but my argument is not so much with the individual policy than with the general indifference shown to the current generation of graduates and recent graduates. Whilst my parents (early 60s) have worked really hard all of their lives, it smarts me slightly to see them swanning around London with free travelcards when many of my peers find it impossible to get full-time, paid work.
Many of the Baby Boomers are working later into life and they enjoy far better health than previous generations, having benefitted from the National Health Service since its creation. Whilst every generation has its winners and losers, a lot seems to have been handed on a plate to the new or next retirees. This is a well-worn list: pensions, cheap housing, free higher education, earning at the peak of their careers though the Blair boom years…
Of course, every generation has their share of luck and loss. Many of my contemporaries are very successful, but even these individuals have to deal with a less stable job market, nearly insurpassable financial barriers to entry to the housing market and almost zero chance of a nice stable company/private pension to see us through old age.
Even middle class twentysomethings with good, stable jobs often have to resort to the bank of Mum & Dad to fund housing deposits and get them off the awful rental market (I only have experience in London, but it’s never been good value or good service). This situation not only reduces our independence but puts the control over our living arrangements right back into the hands of those who already influence policy the most – the Baby Boomers.
I’m not suggesting that we shouldn’t have to save for ourselves or that we need to be bailed out by the government, but policy needs to be looked at through yet another bias prism – generational bias. The three party leaders are just on the younger cusp of the baby boom, and all have small children. These children are constantly referred to as a reason to fix the financial mess that we have been left with since the credit crunch. However, what about those of us in between the fortysomethings and their children?
The simple answer that many honest politicians would give to this problem is that Generation Y aren’t worth focusing on – compared to the older generations were are politically apathetic, and our support will never win them an election. However, this is massively myopic and, as usual, lays the blame at the voters’ door. I would bet (completely unscientifically) that the reason that many young people don’t vote today is because politics doesn’t appear relevant to them. They have seen a lot of stick (removal of EMAs, increased tuition fees) and very little carrot.
There is a whole generation of voters out there, ready to be won if somebody can be bothered. Whilst I won’t hold my breath, I’ll keep an eye out (and a vote) for someone who can show that they care with real, helpful policies for Generation Y, who will be the leaders of tomorrow whether you like it or not.
This article was also published on the UK Politics blog section of The Huffington Post.