Poorer Than Their Parents: Episode 1

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.

Feckless youth?

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.

Posted on: 26 July, 2011

3 thoughts on “Poorer Than Their Parents: Episode 1

  1. Steve Stacey

    I read your article with interest. I am of the older generation, and I agree that younger generations are not getting the same benefits that we did. However, the blame for this should not rest with governments or organisations. We are all to blame! A system which allows us to make massive gains on property is fantastic when you are making the gain, but not so good when you are trying to raise the money to pay someone that gain. You will probably not find many people who want to give some of that gain away though! Our very thoughts are based on commercial gain, and not on how we may help others. I have two children who have turned their backs on the accepted route of university, and have decided to get into work by other routes. However, they are a minority. One reason for this is the lack of any real industry offering apprenticeships or on the job training, but another (equally valid in my view) is the fact that university in a lot of cases is a tactic for avoiding work and going on the lash. Most university cities now spend extra money on policing to cope with the amount of drink fuelled trouble which occurs. In my view, the younger generation have some large hurdles to overcome, but they will not clear them if they can not be bothered to jump!
    We do need to offer some real support to the next generation, but it needs to be met with the correct attitude.

  2. James Hayward

    I have a theory that the relationship of the individual to the world at large does not change, if the ‘world experience’ changes, yes the ‘personal experience’ changes but the relationship is such that the demand on the individual to strive to survive remains the same.
    For example my father (b.1906) left school at 14 started work as an errand boy and eventually ran his own small business. He saw his son (myself) post WWII gain free grammar school education and I remember him saying to me somewhat ambivalently… ‘you will never have to work as hard as I had to!’
    It transpired that for various reasons my working life encompassed periods of unemployment, very hard, menial and demanding work and in mid years working life, because of my education, allowed me to recover lost ground and in retirement I am ‘secure’ but not wealthy. In my opinion my father and I strove to equal degree -the difference between us has simply been the depth of my education which allowed me to understand opportunities and money management.

  3. O. Rivers

    Just to make things clear – I presume I fall somewhere between the younger & older generations. I’m 28 – I dropped out of college midway through A-Levels and honestly never went back. I’ve seen a good chunk of the world since then – relocated to Canada – and now have a successful business of my own & live happily & comfortably. Mostly I agree with you in the sense that ‘we are all to blame’ – but honestly, first & foremost – education is to blame.

    You are absolutely correct – the youth need the correct attitude to meet those hurdles that await them. Equally true is the fact that a majority DON’T have that attitude. Well, ok then – whose fault is this primarily? Can we blame the parents? I don’t think that’s fair – the times change so fast these days we can’t expect our parents’ ideas & methods to apply to us – even if they can’t see that until we’re in our mid-20s! So again – whose responsibility is it to ensure that the youth are ready for what lies ahead?

    Obviously – somewhere within the secondary system – we should be taught life skills. Personally, I find the present system of random, fleeting Careers sessions to be woefully inadequate. As well as the notion that we must rush all these young, unformed minds through a secondary & higher education system – where the main focus is on excellent attainment – as opposed to instilling a sense of worth & confidence in the adult they wish to be. The very idea that we force children at 14 – arguably a time when they are hormonally ‘insane’ – to make decisions that will decide the rest of their lives – is unbelievably cruel, as well as just plain stupid. Is it any wonder so many never finish university, or simply stay there repeatedly studying variations on a theme because they have no idea how to implement their so-called ‘knowledge’ into a professional life.

    I’ll admit – my opinion is biased – based on my own experiences within the UK education system. Though I’ve also experienced education in Canada & the US – and most of the same arguments apply. The main concern of education is those damnable league tables that crop up every year in August/September – which is probably the least important aspect – when we consider the world these children are being thrust into – woefully unprepared.

    Personally, I survived & succeeded due to my Celtic stubbornness – but I know for a fact most are not blessed/cursed with this trait. Many old acquaintances who are still in school, or have finished yet can only find work which they were qualified to do anyway – regardless of their degrees – are struggling with debts that will hang over them throughout the years when our parents were buying houses & starting families. How exactly does this prepare a generation to take the reins from the one preceding?

    Certainly – every aspect of ourselves & our society is to blame for our current predicament – but education has failed in its one & only duty. This was the case when I walked out in 2000 – it is still the case now, if not more so! There will be no improvement in this situation on any level of society – if we continue to fail our children.

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