The most important political battles are fought on the territory of the imagination. Young and unemployed people need to know: you are more than your inability to find a job.It is difficult to quantify despair. You’ll know what I mean if you’ve ever filled in one of those strange little forms that require you, with helpful tick-boxes, to rank your mood from sunny to suicidal. Nonetheless, the latest survey from the Prince’s Trust tells the public what youth campaigners, activists and anyone who frequently meets people in their teens and twenties already know: life for young men and women in Britain today is tough unless you’ve got a trust fund. Nine per cent of respondents said that they “have nothing to live for” and a third of young unemployed people had considered suicide.
Across the world, young people are paying for austerity with their health, their hopes and dreams. In the past three years, I’ve travelled to countries and states where the future has snapped shut suddenly like a set of incisors. Homeless kids in New York told me how the American dream had become a nightmare from which they could not wake. Despairing graduates in Greece described how any hope of a secure or fulfilling future had been stolen and sold back for more than they could afford.
Britain is not the only country gleefully gouging the young, desperate for every penny they don’t possess, but there’s a special vindictiveness to the Tory approach. The Chancellor’s first announcement of the new year pledged another round of cuts to the already lacerated and bleeding social security budget, and top of the list was housing benefit for the under-25s. What this will mean is quite simple. For young people who cannot afford their rent – whether or not they are in work – there will no longer be subsidies available to ensure they don’t get evicted. They will be forced to move back in with their parents, which isn’t an option for everyone; to move away from their friends, and their employment if they have any; or to become homeless, sleeping on sofas or in shelters.