Saturday 1 October 2016

State continues with its war on youth, denying them a place in a brighter future

Lorraine Courtney

Published 15/07/2016 | 02:30

Nobody can deny that things remain terminally bleak here for young people after years of economic collapse and austerity measures. Stock image
Nobody can deny that things remain terminally bleak here for young people after years of economic collapse and austerity measures. Stock image

Even for a generation used to bad news, the revelation this week that the Government could increase third- level fees and create a student loan system in the next few years is a blow. It increasingly seems like successive governments are locked in ideological warfare against young people.

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Nobody can deny that things remain terminally bleak here for young people after years of economic collapse and austerity measures. In fact, the results of the latest ESRI research are unsurprising and show that the nosedive in young people's living conditions has not gone unnoticed. Sky-high college entrance fees and private rents, a shortage of affordable housing, low wages and benefit cuts have combined to make adult life in Ireland a very scary prospect right now. And economics aside, there are actual social, cultural and emotional implications if you've been trapped in a decade of gloom.

New ESRI research suggests that one-quarter of young people suffer from a minimum of three out of the 11 social problems highlighted by researchers. These issues are income poverty, being unable to afford basic goods and services, financial strain, poor health, mental distress, housing quality problems, crowded accommodation, neighbourhood problems, mistrust in institutions (such as the political system, legal system and police), lack of social support and feeling unsafe in the local area. Young adults are twice as likely as the over-70s to experience these quality-of-life problems.

The study, commissioned by the Department of Social Protection, is based on face-to-face interviews by the Central Statistics Office with almost 6,000 adults in 2013. Younger adults are more likely to complain about financial strain, crowded accommodation and deprivation.

Differences between social classes were very apparent too, with manual and lower-skilled workers 2.6 times more likely than professionals and managers to report three or more problems. These findings reflect those of other studies, which conclude younger adults must cope with multiple social stressors, stressors that are far less likely to impact on older people.

From cutting benefits for young jobless people to the revelations that the Government could be planning a new student loan debt scheme in the next few years, young people are often treated badly. On paper, the idea of reducing jobseekers' allowance for the under-25s to encourage them into education and work sounds positive. Apprenticeships are a good thing; training, when it leads to employment, is a good thing; having a qualified and able young workforce is a good thing. So why does it leave a sour taste in the mouth?

How can you budget or plan your finances if you don't know how many hours you're going to work from week to week, never mind the fact that most credit cards and mortgages are completely beyond the reach of people on zero hours contracts?

There are other factors, too, that are conspiring to ensure the fresh faces of Ireland's future will be poorer than our parents. A housing crisis that has been simmering away for years will leave many having to choose between joining a lengthy social housing waiting list or being forced into a private rental sector charging rip-off rents and offering insecure tenancy agreements.

Many of us are stuck living back with our parents or paying high rents, increasingly worried that we'll never save up enough for a deposit on a home of our own. For many women it means delaying decisions like marriage and kids, as you want to feel you are 'sorted' before embarking on that part of your life. Or, alternatively, feeling pressure to buy with a partner before you're really ready to commit, as a panic reaction to escalating prices.

The feeling that the young are being sacrificed to placate an older voting population who have bought into a 'something-for-nothing' narrative has a distancing effect. And because of this disconnect, a cycle emerges. Why vote for politicians who don't care about us? Why would politicians care about us, if we don't vote?

Young people are not apathetic, but we are disaffected. Everyone I talk to has a thousand opinions on the political and economic situation. That's not apathy. But changing things at a top level seems so unrealistic that we go back to the ground, and it's impossible to try to change things from there. We are owed a place in society, a voice in politics and the media; jobs created for us; houses built for us and wages that we can live on.

Irish Independent

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