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Opinion

We need to stand up for future generations, not snipe and sneer at them

The housing row renewed by Kirstie Allsopp shows how older generations have their priorities back to front, writes Paul McNamee.

On her dizzyingly popular television programme Location, Location, Location Kirstie Allsopp once downed a pint of Guinness. When I say downed, that might be a touch of exaggeration. But she certainly enjoyed it. I liked the lack of front this presented. There was no confected sipping delicateness. In she jumped. The in-for-a-penny and off-the-edge leap is something of her stock in trade.

On Sunday, in she jumped again. This time into the house buying fire. She heated up the old chestnut that young people could afford houses if they would only stop watching Netflix while licking overpriced lattes and avocado toast off each other.

Allsopp laid out how she’d put herself through terrible privations in early life in order to get on the housing ladder. This involved eating sandwiches and getting help to buy from her parents. And she hasn’t looked back. 

There was also an element of Norman Tebbit’s onyerbike advice in Kirstie’s focus. If you can’t buy a house where you live, she reasoned, then pop off elsewhere and get one there. This is more than a little ironic given that her fame is based a lot on a show that is really, really, REALLY focused on location.

Leaving aside the ongoing generalised and reductive lunacy of the pack a lunch/buy a house position there is an underlying, and growing, deeper issue. For many commentators, young people (basically anybody under 30) make up a species who are architects of their own downfall, wasters who are too busy buffing up their instas rather than plotting their futures; they should be sneered at and told off and made to buck up their ideas. It’s an updated version of Victorians believing that children should be seen and not heard. 

It’s the wrong way round. We, the parents and grandparents of the left behind generation, need to keep an open mind. For 25 years there has been a race to send millions more to university. To what end? If we were lucky enough to get to university, we left with little or no debt. It was manageable. Now, there is a burden of tens of thousands of pounds for each graduate. It can be presented as a tax on future earnings, but there is a double whammy there. What are the jobs that will allow them to hit a threshold to repay? And if too many don’t hit it, won’t that increase the likelihood of changes to interest rates on student loans, creeping up the amount due for those who can pay?

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That’s not the end, of course. If they are lucky enough to be employed, the boss of the Bank of England is warning them not to expect a pay-rise anytime soon. But if they don’t, well how will they meet the spiralling cost of living, never mind save for a deposit on a home. Pasta bake forever? 

If they’re in a house-share, who gets the £200 towards the energy bill? And who has to pay it off in the coming years?

What about childcare? According the National Childbirth Trust, the average annual cost in the UK for part-time nursery childcare is £7,000 per year. Per child. That is crippling. 

A fantasy image of the best life has been perpetuated by people like Allsopp. Talking nonsense about purchasing power is one thing. Talking up the necessity for people, especially younger people, to get up and find their ‘forever home’ is something more dangerous. It has led to so many (who could afford it) buying an identikit flat in an identikit building that they now are told has unsafe cladding, for which, until Michael Gove gets it sorted, they’re responsible to pay to fix. So even those who thought there were settled are saddled with even more debt. And if they can’t afford to buy into the fallacy of the perfect existence, what then? Ever circling, hoping for break or a rich relative to lift them up?

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Given the outlook for many younger people, I’m surprised more don’t just draw the curtains, get hopped up on caffeine and binge on true-crime serials.

We need to stop seeing the position younger people are in as their fault. The system has failed all of us, but particularly the next generation coming along. 

Stand up for them. Offer real hope and opportunity. Don’t snipe and sneer and punch down because we were luckier a generation ago. 

This article is taken from the February 14 2021 edition of The Big Issue magazine. If you cannot reach your local vendor, you can still click HERE to subscribe to The Big Issue today or give a gift subscription to a friend or family member. You can also purchase one-off issues from The Big Issue Shop or The Big Issue app, available now from the App Store or Google Play.

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