Chloe Combi & Georgia Gould Tackle Issues Faced by Young People

THE determination by young people to find a new political expression and refusal to engage with traditional politics is hurting their own generation’s prospects, Georgia Gould, author of Wasted, has said.  Appearing alongside Chloe Combi, an inner-city teacher and author of Generation Z, Gould, a London councillor, said that young people were trapped in a vicious cycle that was having a palpable effect on their lives.

“This is a deeply political generation, one of the biggest myths is of apathy, and it’s just not the case,” she said. “A lot of young people that I know have contempt for formal political institutions and politicians, and they are just organising out of politics. So you see a rise in spoken word poetry, creative expression and politics through music, but not joining trade unions or political parties, and you see them losing out. There’s this vicious cycle where they don’t vote, and they don’t get involved, and they then lose out in terms of power. It’s so stark at the moment, incomes of 22-to-30-year-olds have reduced by 7.5 per cent since before the recession. Spending on young people as a percentage of the national income has gone down by 18 per cent but spending on pensioners has gone up.”

Gould said that the cuts were going ahead without anyone noticing, and that it was likely that the problem was going to get worse, adding “because it’s young people, it’s happening very quietly.”   Combi said that there needed be a movement for young people’s rights, similar to the ones that campaign for black or gay rights.

The authors, both of whose books examine the issues facing the current generation of young people, said that they are facing unprecedented difficulties and pressures from all aspects of society - social, economic and technological - with girls confronted with an “emerging, new breed of misogyny” while boys were dealing “stresses and tensions” over their masculinity. Combi said that these issues meant it was a “terrifying time to be a parent”.

Gould acknowledged that the idea of a generation gap between young and old has always existed, but she said that the “disjuncture” between the current ones had grown to the point that it become “quite dangerous for society”. She said that this was being exacerbated by decline in the mass cultural institutions, such as political parties and churches, which would traditionally bring generations together, generating suspicion and fear between them.

Combi said that the media had also played a role in creating the problem by highlighting extremes of bad teenage behaviour in terms of alcohol and sex, when the reality was that rates of drug-taking, drinking and teenage pregnancy were declining among young people.  This she said was because of the harsh economic realities they were facing, young people were much more focused in their education too.

Combi explained: “Because of the economic and social pressures that exist, education is so expensive, there isn’t this sense now with young people of “wahey, this is a big party”, they are this really focused generation who know they’re going to leave university with enormous debt, so they have to get this really good degree from a really good university. There’s less indulgence for young people than previous generations.”

But Gould said that she was concerned that this increasingly competitive outlook was encouraging an individualistic, “dog-eat-dog” attitude in the current generation.  “So many young people I spoke to for my book said ‘I’m not my race, I’m not my class, I’m not my religion, I’m just me,” she said. “They want to be defined as individuals and very much wanting that kind of sense individuality.

“This can be a very positive thing as they are very respectful of other people’s individuality, but when it comes to the context where there are declining job opportunities for young people, where there is declining support in general, it can turn into something more competitive. I think young people pull much closer to the American idea that it’s your own individual effort that will make it, and in a climate of declining social mobility that’s quite dangerous.”

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