The economic prospects for young people in the age of austerity cuts seem bleak indeed. Not only are many young people finding it difficult to find employment when they leave school, but the very high cost of property means that many young people will take a very long time to get onto the first rung of the property ladder, if ever.
When developing games like Monopoly or Risk, a process called game balancing happens, whereby the game is test played and the variables tweaked so the game is neither too easy, nor too difficult, and so the in-game toy economy is balanced so a game is not so easy that it does not offer an enjoyable level of challenge, whilst not becoming so taxing that feels like hard work. One gets the sense that Britain’s economy today has lost its game balancing: the challenges facing people trying to live everyday lives, and reconcile shrinking capital with the ever demanding costs of living, seems to point to a system no longer being run to give everyone a step up. It is as if our economy is being geared to work for something other than the citizens of the country, as if it is being geared to operate for larger entities than individuals – and inividuals are finding that they only get £20 for passing Go, in a world where the Angel Islington costs £40.
Some people blame baby boomers, and say that they were an extraordinarily selfish generation who skewed capitalism and political systems to serve their own interests. Baby boomers, it is argued, ‘own’ the post war period, and as they are all now retired they are no longer interested in the mental investment in future generations, only in marking time in their Indian summers of old age. Meanwhile, youth grow ever more disenchanted and disaffected by the experience of living in a country that doesn’t seem able or willing to change the formula to give them the breaks.
It is facile to say that the process must be reversed. It probably can’t. What we do need to do is change political and economic thinking so that people, especially young people, have the chance to acquire the same quality of life and opportunity that baby boomers at that age took for granted. We need innovative thinking that challenges the received wisdom that after education young people have to get jobs and homes, as those are the trappings of the very system that is failing them.
Here are two (albeit unlikely to be implemented) solutions.
1) One possibility is for all property on a large Western Isle of Scotland to be bought by the Government. An Act Of Parliament should be passed whereby the cash value of all the land on the island is 0.00001 pence per acre. The island would then effectively be decapitalised. People who live on the island should not have to pay tax. This would have the effect of demonetising the island too. People should be encouraged to move there if they would like to like a life outside the economic system that runs the country, a life where the grow their own food and make their own clothes. THis island would still be part of the UK and would need to be given basic state provisions such as military police, military fire engines and a military hospital. Other than that they would be free to live in a demodernised economy, based on subsistence farming and bartering. Such an island would be maintained at a cost to the UK taxpayer in terms of Army services such as hospitals and MP’s, and this cost could be reclaimed by getting them to work three months a year doing some form of public sector work such as refuse collecting or street cleaning. It would only work if there were enough young people who really had given up on ever owning property or making the economic life of this country work for them, and really wanted to explore a lifestyle completely outside societal expectations.
2) Another option is to have a civilian force organised much like the Armed Forces. An example I would give is hospital cleaners. Hospital cleaning is not an easy job and requires serious training. It is not as simple as running a cloth over a desk with a quick spray of polish, but rather hospital cleaners are trained to get surgical theatres and hospital wards germ free by understanding the biology of infection and knowing how to clean a surface, or a bodily fluid spillage, to a clinical standard of hygiene. People should be recruited into a force of hospital cleaners when they leave school, and should undergo sixth months training to get them up to the correct standard of clinical practice required. They could then travel the country cleaning hospitals wherever directed, staying six to eight weeks in one location before moving on. As such it would be a lifestyle choice as much as a career, like joining the Army. Travel is good for young people and is an education in itself. After three or fours years working as hospital cleaners up and down the country young people could either progress up the ladder of the NHS or find another job that their skills are suited to.
Both these ideas are entirely speculative, may not be viable, and may not be suitable for the current climate, but that should not negate the underlying point. New innovative initiatives are required to stop young people ever becoming so disenchanted that they throw their hand in altogether.