Jilted Generation: a student’s view

Sam Desborough explains why he was gripped by Jilted Generation, and why he thinks it should be required reading for fellow students

The blurb for Jilted Generation describes it as a work of ‘irresistible polemical energy’ and this proves to be a most apt summary of Ed Howker and Shiv Malik’s writing.

Grabbing the reader by the collar, they demand you look at how the ‘Baby Boomer’ generation has pulled the ladder up from behind them in the struggle for future security and prosperity, and saddled the following generation with the responsibility to clean up any of the mess left behind.

Housing first

The issue of housing is launched into right from the start, and they show how important this is to consider from an intergenerational perspective.

Howker and Malik particularly attack the suggestion of the chairman of the National Landlords Association that renting provides a flexibility of property ownership that is desirable for the younger generation; and a strong case is put against the trend of ‘buy to let’ investors.

An extraordinary statistic is quoted from economist Martin Weale that the younger generation will be paying the older population £1,300,000,000 (one trillion, three hundred million) in profit from housing. Rather than serving society through housing provision, new housing development becomes skewed in favour of the older generation, suiting their desire for profit rather than the needs of the younger generation to have space for a family.

Further to this, an interesting link is made between violence committed by young men living at home and the lack of responsibility to provide their own accommodation.

Globalised job market

As the focus turns to jobs, Jilted Generation challenges the idea that the younger generation are always poorer and must wait until they are considerably older to improve their financial situation.

Furthermore, although globalisation poses the real challenge for the younger generation by destabilising the jobs market and driving down wages, an extremely important point is made that the younger generation – the first generation to pay higher education fees – is largely taking the brunt of the changes in the employment market.

Individualism vs communal interests

Howker and Malik then further develop a convincing case that during the 1960s and 1970s, a paradigm shift took place in societal attitudes towards social independence and individualism.

As a result, the ‘Baby Boomers’ became the first generation to consider their individual rights ahead of the benefits of wider society, leading Howker and Malik to conclude that ‘for the past three decades, every sinew of government has been strained towards the empowerment of individuals and their short term satisfaction’.

Despite being such a strong statement, it is supported with sound historical understanding. With housing costs leaving the average age of first time buyers at an almost elderly 37 (unless they have financial help from relatives), and young people being shackled with heavy debts to cover the lack of foresight of the older generation, it is difficult to disagree with them.

Recommended reading

As each generation naturally has its own hurdles to clear, Jilted Generation could be branded as a long whinge from one generation to another, but its message crucially highlights how government policies can no longer be allowed to disregard the interests of the younger and future generations in favour of short-term gains.

For a book concerning mortgages, pensions and post-war economic history, Jilted Generation is a gripping read and succeeds in stirring feelings of indignation and real concern for prospects for housing and jobs for my generation. It is an engaging introduction to very complex issues, and I can thoroughly recommend it – particularly to those of university age.