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Laura Perrins: The young have never had it so good? A spurious claim materially and spiritually


In 1996, the year before New Labour were elected to government, 2.7 million 20-34 year-olds lived with their parents. In 2013, this rose to 3.3 million, a staggering rise of 25 per cent. Despite this, James Delingpole tells us that today’s twentysomethings are a gilded generation and that they have ‘never had it so good.’ Is this true?

Mr Delingpole has had a Damescene Conversion from believing it was an absolute “no-brainer that the kids of today are going to be worse off than their parents’ generation” to finding that on “almost every available metric it turns out that the optimists have got it right. Today’s gilded generation is the most blessed that ever lived.”

He takes a number of benchmarks. One is health. He believes that as cancer survival rates are better and HIV is no longer a death sentence twentysomethings should be chipper. Well, sure. But then these improvements in health will benefit every generation, not just the young and hip. In fact, improvements in cancer rates will disproportionately benefit older people so I don’t find this very convincing.

Next he relies on working conditions. Salaries are up. This is true but only for graduates inpaid work. We still have approx 2.3 million number of people unemployed. Further, prospects for the unemployed non-graduates are dire. Until very recently you did not need a degree to do many jobs that now require one – not out of necessity for the job mind you, but just because employers use degrees as a sieve. So the unemployed twentysomething without a degree is stuffed.

For the lucky well-paid graduates, they will need that bigger salary to pay off the whacking great loan required to secure the degree in the first place. This must be considered when examining wages.

Next is homes. It is admitted that houses are ‘expensive’ (!) but mortgages are much cheaper now. Again, this might be the case judging by repayments, but cheap mortgages are only available to those who have large deposits in the first place (how are you supposed to save for this when you are paying off the student loan?) or when a parent goes guarantor. So again this in not persuasive.

Education – this one was funny. He ignores the fact that exponential increases in education spending over the last twenty years have coincided with the UK plummeting down the international league tables. This does not matter as we still have ‘lots of graduates.’

He states “now around half of all young people get to know the joys of freshers’ week, essay crises, late-night kebabs on vomit-spattered pavements and other formative further education experiences.” This is not my idea of a ‘formative further education’ and it tells us much of what the baby boomers think constitutes a legacy.

I do not believe that it is worth shelling out nearly £30,000 for the pleasure of experiencing vomit-spattered pavements. Having good contact time with your lecturer (they don’t do this these days, it is beneath them) and being challenged by fellow bright students is a formative education but now less common.

Delingpole does talk about how technology has given young people access to music and literature previously only available to the very wealthy. This is true. With a combination of Spotify, the literary classics, most of which are free on iBooks, and if you are lucky enough to live in London free access to art museums, your average twentysomething could access the greatest art, music, and works of literature Western Civilisation has ever produced.

This argument only holds, however, if young people know that this is the pinnacle of Western Civilisation and value it as their rightful inheritance. But many do not because the boomers told them Western Civilisation was nasty, racist and sexist. The Baby Boomers did not pass on the splendour and triumph of Western Civilisation – in fact they trashed it. So Facebook and Big Brother rule instead.

Finally, in addition to the financial debt and the cultural poverty, there is the spiritual poverty- and it runs deep. This generation suffered the widespread divorce of their parents – and things look no better for the next generation with a total of 4.2 million children in England and Wales – 35 per cent – not living with both parents.

Although many want to settle down they don’t have many role models and find it difficult to make this dream reality. Women in particular feel there is no one to trust (a damming indictment of forty years of feminism). So sure, no one is going down the mine anymore, and we have lots of stuff. But the stuff is just blocking out the mistrust of fellow man, the lack of family and real community.

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