When under pressure, or placed in a stressful situation, some people get loud. They shout, sigh, huff, bang doors, slam pens and books on their desks. They cry, and spit snarky retorts across rooms. (I’m one of these people.) Other people go quiet. They retreat, tuck themselves and their messy, unravelling feelings away, and go very still and say nothing at all.
We suspected the Budget would be bad news for the young, poor and vulnerable, and our collective sense of dread turned out to be utterly justified. In short: “Housing benefit has been scrapped for 18-21 year olds, the new minimum wage will not apply to anyone under 25 and maintenance grants for poorer university students are gone, replaced with another loan. Our poorest students will now leave university with a higher debt than those from more affluent backgrounds” (from here).
The comment pieces that appeared in the days that followed were telling: “What have young people done to Osborne to deserve such contempt?” asked The Guardian’s Polly Toynbee – to which I suspect the answer has less to do with what they have done and more to do with what what they didn’t do – i.e. vote for a party that wasn’t the Conservatives. Jonathan Freedland, also at The Guardian, had an interesting take on it. But it’s Sali Hughes’ piece on housing benefits, from The Pool, that best illustrates what these cuts will mean for young people.
It’s simple, and stark – the less money and support you have, the smaller your world gets – and the bigger, darker and scarier the ‘outside’ becomes. Opportunities flicker and evaporate, and the chances to change your situation appear less and less often, and eventually stop cropping up altogether.
You come to a standstill. You are young – late teens, early twenties – but you are not how young people are ‘supposed’ to be, which is sociable, lively, ambitious, and energetic.
You have to spread your energy thinly, so eventually you stop moving, stop dreaming, stop fighting – because moving, dreaming and fighting require fuel and fire you cannot afford to expend.
You stop fighting your own corner, and don’t have anyone to fight it for you.
This is how you crush a generation – you take away their support, you make it harder still for them to progress, you all but tell them they don’t matter. They don’t have a place in this country; it isn’t built for them.
You write them out of their own stories; render them voiceless and inanimate. But in doing so, you set fire to the future. Because that’s what happens if you screw over the young – you burn any hope of a better future; you reduce all the cities and ideas and stories that would have come, had they been given even half a chance, to ash.
Those of us with voices and homes and fuel and heat must now get loud, on behalf of those without. Those of us who can act, should – march, protest, join societies, make it known that this is not what a lot of us voted for, this is not the society we want. Make some noise.
Sorry this is quite a bleak one. You know what’s not bleak? This song. Just try not singing along. Just you try.