Antony Mason reviews the first in a series about young people in Britain today, exploring their problems and offering some possible solutions
Poorer Than Their Parents is a series of four, half-hour programmes currently being aired on BBC Radio 4, presented by the American financial guru Alvin Hall, and designed to fill the slot vacated by Money Box over the summer.
It is of particular interest to the Intergenerational Foundation, because we feature in it – but not in Episode 1, broadcast last Saturday (23 July), which focused on employment and internships.
The question being asked in the title is taken from the Labour leader Ed Miliband, who has suggested that Britain is in danger of raising the first generation for some time to be worse off than their parents. What has gone wrong, and what are the solutions?
The programme begins with some alarming statistics about youth unemployment in the UK – that 15% of 16–24 year olds are Neets (Not in Education, Employment or Training).
Alvin Hall gives a sympathetic account of an employment scheme in Didcot, but seems frustrated by the apathy of some of its young participants. They seem to be unwilling to take advantage of any opportunity, expecting fortune to fall into their laps – perhaps, he suggests, the product of “celebrity culture”, which sees the celebrity, but not the hard work that goes into it.
Alvin Hall’s frustration is no doubt fuelled by his own personal experience, raising himself from poverty in Florida to graduate from college, and then achieve a high-profile status as a gifted financial advisor and communicator in personal and corporate finance and marketing.
He is certainly not inclined to blame the system – but young people in the UK today do unquestionably suffer from diminished job opportunities as a result of the collapse of Britain’s industrial base, the drive to outsource jobs abroad, and the deficiencies of the education system – problems created by an older generation who haven’t themselves suffered the same problems of youth unemployment.
Internships: glitter and grind
Despite the supposed advantages of university education, it’s a tough time for graduates too, with graduate unemployment currently at its highest level since the 1990s. Alvin Hall looks at the world of internships, starting with the work of the American operation CharityBuzz, which auctions graduate internships in high-profile organisations; the money raised (sometimes as much as US$50,000) goes to charity.
The conviction of CharityBuzz’s organisers that the “deep pockets” of the bidders represents a “deep social conscience” has a hollow ring. The question of social mobility does not get a look in.
Fortunately there is the countervailing voice of the UK campaign group InternAware to remind listeners of the detrimental sides to a system which should pay at least a minimum wage to those who do proper work.
Internships are, of course, a thorny subject, a grey area between genuine opportunity and rampant exploitation. Alvin Hall interviews a sympathetic graphic designer struggling on an internship which offers just £100 a week to cover expenses – a sum that, to survive on in London, has to be subsidised by other sources, usually parents. The designer suggests that this, regrettably, is the only way to get his foot in the door of his chosen career.
Intergenerational home share
Alvin Hall takes a characteristically “can-do” attitude to this, and puts the graphic designer in touch with a branch of Crossroads Care that runs home share schemes. Young people can pay low rent (£199 per month was quoted) to live in the home of an elderly person who has more space than he or she needs. In return, the lodger has to spend 10 hours a week offering services to the owner, such as shopping, cooking, housework, and maybe just companionship (but not acting as a carer in the nursing sense).
Sounds good in principle – a perfect intergenerational solution. To date this is only a small and localised scheme in North London: could it be rolled out on a large scale? It would certainly suit plenty of people if well-paired; but the potential for things to go wrong is not hard to imagine.
But maybe Alvin Hall is not suggesting that this is any way a universal solution. Maybe he is simply saying that, to find solutions when you are in a tight corner, you must apply some creative thinking. His is a sunny voice of can-do application, which makes refreshing listening in a world too easily immersed in gloom.
Episode 2 of Poorer Than Their Parents has been scheduled for Saturday 30 July, at 12:00 noon. Episode 1 said that this would be about pensions and the effect of the rise in University tuition fees; the BBC website on the other hand says “Alvin Hall explores young people’s attitudes to debt and savings”. Either way, we’ll be listening.