Image by @MartaParszeniew
Black is white. Night is day. Left is right. I’m currently listening to a Radio 4 documentary called 'Generation Right' and some students from my hometown of Nottingham are prattling on about benefit cheats: "They’ve got like 15 kids and they’re like scamming the benefits system… there is jobs, they don't want to do them... they get more out of being on the benefits scheme than they do with getting a job,” cry one group of girls when asked if the Welfare State is one of Britain’s proudest achievements. So there we go, it’s "they" with "15" kids who are to blame for all our troubles. "They" must mean all those scummy workshy bastards scamming themselves council houses and refusing to take all those millions of well-paid jobs out there. Depressingly, more and more young people are starting to believe shit like this. Research shows that Millenials, or Generation Y – basically anyone aged 18-30 – are more right-wing than our grandparents. Are we? Really?
Sort of. We’re Thatcher’s kids. Crap with money but happy to watch gay boys make out on Hollyoaks. We grew up secretly watching Eurotrash as kids and masturbating to every possible flavour of porn on the Internet as teens. Many of us are highly educated, thousands of pounds in debt and pinning our future career hopes on three-month unpaid internships at Café Nero. We haven’t got enough money to pay the rent but we believe that’s our fault. We blog. About Beyonce. We don’t want to hurt you for being different, and your can marry a horse for all we care, but we don’t particularly want to help you either. Nor do we want your help. We’re going it alone. We don’t know any other way.
No wonder. If you were brought up in a room that was painted blue and only contained blue things, how could you possibly know if red was your favourite colour? Millennials may be to the right of our grandparents on economic issues, but we don’t even know that we are. We don’t know shit.
Up until very recently, I didn’t know that it was only in the 1980s that regular people started using credit cards to get themselves into thousands of pounds of debt. I didn’t know that it used to be free to go to University. I didn’t know that couples used to be able to live off one person’s income while the other partner (albeit a woman, usually) stayed at home to look after the kids. I was born into a world where all grown-ups work long hours, share houses and sofas they haven’t paid for and carry on like this is just how the world works.
It wasn’t always this way. My mate Michael likes trains and Morrissey and is a bit of a nerd and knows about boring crap like the difference between "left wing" and ‘"right wing". Before he educated me on a few things, I thought that being on the dole was something to be ashamed of and I secretly resented friends who’d been given council houses after having babies as teenagers. I never considered the possibility that maybe we just need more houses and that if the government didn’t offer people homes, I myself wouldn’t have had anywhere to live as a child because my mum was also, once, a single teenage mother. It didn’t occur to me that had I been born 40 years previously I might have grown up in a slum and contributed even less to society than I do now as a journalist.
So where does 'left' and 'right' fit into all this? I bet that if you asked 100 people under the age of 30 to define the difference, they’d struggle. It’s all just so 1980s, isn’t it? If Ed Milliband wants Labour to cut benefits for young people and push them into "training" instead, what the fuck is Labour supposed to stand for these days? I thought Labour helps the people who are struggling. Ed’s a joker if he thinks that young people aren’t struggling enough as it is, but the joke is on us and we don’t even know we’re being laughed at.
Ed’s policy is a lovely idea that could make a real difference if we lived in a society where those skills might actually translate into paid work, but we don’t. We live in Britain, in 2014. As no one seems to have come up with any plan to change the situation since I last raised this issue, I’ll politely point it out again: there are no jobs.
Who is going to create jobs? Show us your work schemes, Ed, not your training schemes. Thanks to Labour, more of us go to University now than ever before, so why are there currently 2.16 million unemployed people in Britain, of which 853,000 are young people? The true number is probably much higher, once you include those lucky "employed" in unpaid internships, voluntary roles and part time jobs that don’t pay shit.
So what will Labour be taking people off benefits and training them up for? To go and work in imaginary factories for imaginary pay packets? While you’re at it, Ed, why not take away people’s wheelchairs and watch them jump up and dance for a living?
Meanwhile, huge coporations continue to avoid paying billions in tax on the gazillions they make. Apparently, Ed’s plans to take benefits off yoofs will save us 65 million. I think he’d be better off focusing his efforts on finding the 6,000,000 billion trillion various huge companies owe us.
OK, so a few people have been protesting about tax avoidance, but the truth is our generation aren’t nearly as angry as we should be so why expect our politicians to be any better? As one Guardian commenter witheringly put it “society is weird when the hippies have to act like emergency tax inspectors”.
Photo by Robert Foster
Millenials should be angrier about these fat cats dismantling of our welfare state, but the problem, ironically, is that we just don’t know how shit everything used to be. Our world revolves around iTunes and Instagram, narcotics and Netflix. The idea that people lived in squalour seems so archaic it’s almost funny to us – like the plague, or MSN. It’s not. Ask your grandma. Or maybe even your great grandma. One of them will know. Believe it or not, kids, there are people alive today who’ve been around longer than the welfare state. They remember why we have it and what it replaced – people living in slums, working in poor houses and dying of diseases before they even hit the joys of puberty.
Don’t fool yourself into thinking that we could never go back to those days – our lives aren’t better now because we have MTV and emojis: they’re better because of council houses and universal healthcare and benefits for those who are struggling. Collectivism. Look at Brazil. Some people are doing well for themselves there, but don’t you think the country as a whole would be a much more pleasant place to live for everyone without the extreme poverty that football fans will be doing their best to ignore over the next few weeks?
And what happened to people having more leisure time? The introduction of machines and computers were meant to help people work less, not more. If we can produce goods more quickly and cheaply than at any other point in history, why do we all suddenly need to be in 9-5 jobs to survive anyway? What passed for a day’s graft in 1950 can be done in the time it takes to take a shit these days. Why does everyone seem to be struggling? Could it be because a bunch of swine at the top want to have more money than they could even dream of spending? That people sleep rough on the streets or in halfway houses while these fuckers buy massive mansions they don’t even live in? Millenials, some say, are the selfish generation because we’re addicted to selfies. Yeah, right.
Britain is not struggling because young people are taking the piss out of the benefits system. I’m glad my generation is socially liberal, but it’s time Club 18-30 wised up to right-wing economics, because, as Ed has shown, we’re the first section of society these policies will be used to shaft. And we’re just lying down and taking it because we don’t know there’s another way. So we might be naïve enough to believe the politicians when they say we “can't afford” the welfare state – because none of us remember the fact that it was created at a time when Britain was bankrupt after the 2nd World War. It doesn’t matter how much money the state has got. It can always be shared for the good of everyone.
Young people aren’t more right-wing. We’re not really anything. The only reason I think of myself as left-wing is because other people have told me I am. Mainly because I believe transgender people don’t deserve to be treated like shit. It’s a ridiculous assumption to be honest – like, if you tell someone you’re gay these days, does that make you left-wing too? With the Tories bringing in gay marriage and Labour pledging to cut benefits, left and right is becoming a meaningless distinction. If anything, we’ve become a nation of tacit libertarians – the politics of 'anything goes so long as you respect the individual'.
As David Cameron pointed out not so long ago, we Brits live in a rich country. Rich enough to bake a big cake and cut it into 10 slices. The bankers took nine and now the rest of us are fighting over the last one. Millenials don’t care if we’re fighting a gay person or a black person or a fucking Sims character for that last slice so long as we have the freedom to snatch a crumb or two for ourselves. We’re socially liberal and economically knobheaddish. We’re idiots.
Previously: Which Spice Girl 'Won'?