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The lost generation: why Britain’s young people have no hope of a bright future

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It is a frustrating time to be a young Brit today. But the mounting frustration I feel, being lucky enough to have a job and working towards a career, must be exponentially worse for those without work, without money and losing hope.

It wasn’t always like this, or so I’m told. But the halcyon days of old are no longer. The youth of today are screwed.

The first problem is education. Degrees have become a penny a dozen, not in financial terms, but in aspirational terms. If every job needs a degree then the majority of young people have to go into debt simply to have any hope of getting a job.

A huge number of young people now have degrees, but if everyone has a degree then it isn’t an advantage, it is simply a debt. If no one had a degree then the job market would be exactly the same. We have massively devalued our education system. This is because of market forces in the education system.

The next problem is the housing market. My mum bought her first house for £15,000 back in the 80s. She tells me that although her salary has trebled, her flat is now worth almost £300,000.

How on earth are young people meant to get a mortgage? When my mum was earning 10k a year her mortgage was a year-and-halfs wages. If you wanted a mortgage on her house while earning £20,000 it would pan out at 20 years wages. Young people are being denied mortgages, their right to property trodden on by market forces.

The people being given mortgages are the property owners. This means that as they expend their property empires, they force myriad young people into permanently renting, costing them hundreds of thousands of pounds, yet leaving them nothing to show for it.

Another problem employment. Where are the jobs that school children were so earnestly promised by schoolteachers when they graduated? Neither here nor there. This is of course, due to market forces.

There are now over a million young people unemployed, with no hope of owning property because they can’t get a career in order to get the money to invest in a house.

The economic situation has instilled such fears in employers that even if there was a 99% chance that taking on more staff would be profitable, they won’t. The big business owners have gone for damage limitation, which in real English, means reducing their costs to keep their profits.

But, young people of Britain, don’t dispair, because it is not your fault. In fact it isn’t your government’s fault, nor your parent’s fault. It’s the economy stupid.

It is in fact the wool being pulled over our eyes. Austerity has failed this country, it has put us into another recession, left millions unemployed, ruined the moral of millions more, destroyed the hopes and aspirations of the next generation of this country.

We are told that market forces i.e. the recession, is responsible for this. But the market was created by us, and why would the chancellor pronounce an annual budget if we couldn’t have effect it?

We do have an impact on it, but that is directed away from the young people, the needy and the disabled.

Yet we do nothing. We barely even vote anymore. This has led to some of the disparity that exists in our country because politics is all about voters. The majority of home owners vote, whereas a majority of renters don’t. Work it out, political parties hoping to be in government preach to the home owners and the business owners, the people who vote. It may have started as a trickle, but as politicians started to care less about young people, they stopped voting, so the government cared less, and fewer young people voted. And on it went ad infinitum until we get what we have today, a government that protects the vested interests of the rich because the young poor don’t vote.

It is not just the economy, it is our fault too. Pensioners still receive their free bus passes and tv licences because they are the highest voting demographic. Big businesses receive better deals and billionaire CEOs get lower tax rates, because they not only vote, but fund political campaigns.

Our politicians see young people as hoodies, rioters and lazy. Until now we have been too scared to be or do anything different. If we have jobs we want to keep them, and if we don’t we still have this hope, drilled into us at a young age, that our lives will be like our parent’s.

This is a myth. We won’t have state pensions, many of us won’t have jobs. As pensionable ages get higher this will stop new, younger workers entering the system and it will get worse and worse. There is no growth strategy (except if you count helping businesses and millionaires grow their own profits), no safety net and as I see it the only hope is to make our voices heard.

We have been institutionalised to believe that the system will look after us. It worked for our parents, our parent’s parents and their parents before them. It won’t work for us. If we go on hoping that getting our grades will get us a job which will get us a mortgage we are letting ourselves be cheated by a system representing the few.

I am not saying that young are the only demographic to suffer, god knows what’s being inflicted on the old, disabled and public sector is inhumane to say the least. But it is the young people who have to stand up for themselves, ourselves, if anything is going to change.

We must make our jobs, we must make our money and we must make our hope.

It’s not pretty, but it works – Why charities use street fundraisers

Charity fundraising is seen as a nuisance but is vital to charities in the UK

Charity muggers - chuggers - at work on the high streets

Charity begins at home,” runs the mantra, and at times almost everyone must have wished for some benevolent benefactor to help them in some way. It is hard to get worked up about famine in Africa, or deforestation in Indonesia when you’re worried about how you’ll afford your winter heating bills.

But these issues are being thrown in the face of shoppers on high streets across the country. Typically touted by long-haired, ever-smiling youths, charities have taken over the streets to win over the hearts and minds of the British public. Commonly dubbed ‘chugging’ (charity mugging), the voluntary sector calls it face-to-face-fundraising.

Almost everyone has gotten annoyed with being harangued in the street. Why anyone would think that because you’re carry a dozen heavy bags, soaked to the skin in the rain, and powering home that you want to stop and discuss world poverty is a mystery. But teams of fundraisers are spread across the country on a daily basis trying to bring supporters into their fold.

It has now come to a head in Islington. Councillor Paul Convery, Islington Council’s executive member for planning, regeneration and parking, has spoken out against the sheer number of fundraisers operating in the Borough.

People regard it as excessive and a nuisance,” he says. “We’re not talking about hundreds of thousands, but scores of complaints.”

The majority of people of Islington seem tired of charity fundraising in their area. A recent Daily Telegraph poll suggests that 58 per cent of people want it banned in London.

Out on Upper Street, my quick stroll poll found that 64 people thought there were too many fundraisers in Islington, compared to 26 who didn’t. Leaving 10 per cent who said they didn’t think there were more in Islington than anywhere else.

Cllr Convery is clear that they do not want to ban street chugging. They are campaigning for it to be regulated by local authorities rather than independent organisations like the Public Fundraising Regulatory Association (PFRA).

This is the only type of street canvassing that is regulated privately,” he says. “Every other type of on-the-street activity requires a license except fundraising.”

The PFRA liaises with councils and charities to decide where, when and how often fundraising can take place.

But all this chugger-bashing has obscured why people in out in the street in all weathers, day-in and day-out, in the first place: they are raising the necessary funds for charities to continue their work.

It can be annoying to be approached by a charity, but as PFRA spokesman Ian MacQuillian explains: “It’s a myth that people give to the charities they give to without being asked.”

He highlights that chuggers are not taking donations there and then, but signing members up to regular direct debit payments, pledges of a set amount on a regular basis. These are widely regarded by charities as the most effective way to monitor and budget their contributions. Fundraising in this way breaks-even after two or three years and can return £2.50 for every £1 invested.

PFRA figures show that during 2010-11 street fundraising brought in over 170,000 supporters to their charities. It shows that despite the huffing and puffing of councils and the public, a great many people do stop and contribute to chuggers.

Mike Blakemore, media director at Amnesty international UK says: “It is an important for all organisations and it provides an opportunity to speak to members of the public that we wouldn’t meet otherwise.”

Despite the chagrin that many people experience when approached on the street, Mr Blakemore says only 0.04 per cent of the people their fundraisers spoke to complained.

Amnesty stands firmly behind keeping the PFRA regulating street fundraising.

Council’s shouldn’t be able to decide which charities can fundraise,”says Mr Blakemore.

He believes that to shift regulation from the PFRA would lead to more expensive administration for councils, and could result in arbitary decisions about which charities could fundraise.

Many would argue that the decision to give or not is purely down to the individual. This sentiment is echoed by Mr Blakemore: “It is a very personal thing and people are capable of making that decision on their own.”

Islington Council and the PFRA are in talks over the issue in the Borough. But both, and many other interested parties are awaiting Lord Hodgson’s ongoing review of the 2006 Charities Act. At present he is listening to the parties involved and the general public, and after the consultation period ends in April his final report will be awaited with bated breath before the summer recess.

At a time when the economy is sagging and public sector funding is tight, it seems a no-brainer for councils to take on the regulation of charity fundraising. And with household income being squeezed from all directions, the decision to give or not give to charities might safely be left to the general public.

 

Charity fundraising is seen as a nuisance, but it is vital for charites

Chuggers at work on the UK's high streets

Rhetoric: proper debating or unhealthy arguing?

September 23, 2011 1 comment

Ever fallen victim to Godwin’s Law, also known as the Rule of Nazi Analogies? I have, and it wasn’t very pleasant. Firstly, I was embarrassed, because I’d used the Nazi’s, or Hitler (I don’t remember which) as a comparison, which is extremely lazy. Secondly, it made me bit miffed to have my point shut down by a debating rule. Childish I know, but we all secretly want to throw a temper tantrum at times don’t we?

Anyways, tantrums and feet stamping aside, on reflection, I was a bit disturbed by this run in with Godwin, however trivial.

I realised that GL is just one of many ways to shut down an argument without actually refuting someone’s point. If you go to the Fallacy Files you can research exactly how many logic tricks there are to beat someone in a debate.

We all know that an argument has premises that lead to a conclusion. In its most basic form, modus ponens, it is:

If a then b (if the leaves are golden (a) it’s autumn (b))

It’s a, (the leaves are golden)

Therefore it’s b too (it must be autumn).

(You could argue with this example but I made it up looking out the window and I am not going to find another one, and the fallacious nature of my example shouldn’t retract from my point).

But in an argument you also have two other aspects, which regularly get ignored: The conclusion and the truth.

This is why another example of modus ponens is logically true, but it has no point and can’t be true:

If the sky is pink, I’m a pink elephant. The sky is pink, so therefore I’m a pink elephant.

The argument is valid, but what point does it prove? We can use any number of premises to argue our point, so just because our premises are incorrect, shouldn’t invalidate my point, it just invalidates the way I made the point. And, however logically valid it is, it cannot be said to be true. It seems so basic, but it is often forgotten.

Politicians, businessmen, people at the pub, hoboes in fact, can make a valid argument, but it doesn’t mean that it’s true.

I might have approached this indirectly, but here’s what I mean. Two anti-abortionist could disagree on why they are against terminating a pregnancy, even if they agree with the point in question, abortion should be illegal. To put across this point they can take any of innumerable premises and conclusions. One might think abortions should be illegal because they cost the NHS too much money. The other might feel that the foetus is a human being as soon as the sperm and egg meet. But our first antagonist could think that the foetus is not a person until the baby is born.

The fact is, you could tear apart either of these fictitious debater’s arguments, yet their point could remain valid. Abortion could be totally immoral for all I know. Just pointing out that their argument is a fallacy doesn’t escape the point of the matter, or the truth.

This is why winning a debate is the wrong approach to arguing. When you win a debate, you miss the point, which should be to find the truth. If you disprove someone’s argument, you haven’t disproved the truth – because by definition the truth is the truth and cannot be false (there’s some logic for you). What debate should lead to is a balanced answer, based on the truth, not a winner and a loser.

And the reason, oh very patient reader, that I was disturbed by my encounter with Mr Godwin’s Law, was because shutting down a debate, or winning a debate I should say, applies to all our political lives.

Politicians are the most talented rhetoricians I’ve ever heard. They are very skilled at tearing apart each other’s arguments and winning debates. But, because they have policies and agendas, they are not winning arguments for the sake of finding the truth.

The truth is that the UK is in a very sad place just now and a lot of people are feeling the heat (or the cold if energy prices are anything to go by). Our government should be interested in lessening our burdens and protecting our economy, yet they squabble like school children. By having a process of debate and law enactment based on winning and losing, I wonder if any of their policies actually are ‘truly’ best for our country.

I don’t like using ‘what is best’, but it’s, ironically, the best term I’ve got. There is a range of measures which would be best for our country, but because politicians think so much about re-election, they want to do what pleases their voters or campaign funders.

This was put excellently by Christina Patterson in the I Paper. “Most people in this country support capital punishment. Most people like the idea that teenagers caught up in mass hysteria should have their lives wrecked. Most people even seem to think that people who earn six times as much as they do shouldn’t pay a higher rate of tax. They believe these things because their parents, and the newspapers, and even sometimes because their politicians tell them they should.”

I was the same. I went into my first philosophy tutorial full of opinions that I quickly realised were echoes my mother’s. It happens, but as Christine notes, “we can change our minds”.

We need politicians who are willing to give up everything for the truth, and the truth is constituents don’t know what is good for them, they just know what they want. And politicians sway the masses with promises of what they want (like the Lib Dem promise to freeze tuition fees, nice as an idea, impossible in practice), and behave like experts when they’re not.

As one very wise commentator stated, rhetoric “is the art of persuasion in courts of law and other assemblies” and that it “creates belief about the just and unjust, but gives no instruction about them.”

He adds, “The rhetorician need not know the truth about things; he has only to discover some way of persuading the ignorant that he has more knowledge than those who do know.”

My commentator is Plato, writing over 2,000 years ago in the Gorgias. But he’s still right. Our business leaders, media moguls, bankers and even people on the streets, are not experts outside their fields. We all know a little this and a little that, but when we stand united, we know a lot about a great many things. Rhetoric in government and business ignores the truth for the sake of comfort and the status quo, to please shareholders or voters.

Politics has lost the truth, the media and banks have lost the truth, and our country has lost the truth. That’s why, over the last few years we’ve endured expense scandals, banks crashing, phone hacking and riots. What we need is to take stock and realise that we can’t live in a country where we’re all trying to survive individually because competition and consumption is finite. We need to live somewhere where cooperation is offered, compromise is welcome and compassion isn’t a lefty ideal. I know which state of affairs would make me happier.

Comment on Student Riots

I was left in shock today by David Cameron’s words following the demonstration yesterday that culminated in the ransacking of Tory HQ in Millbank. Over 50,000 turned out to protest peacefully about the plans to triple university tuition fees, scrap teaching grants to the arts, humanities and social sciences and the u-turn taken by the Liberal Democrats.who allowed these proposals to gain ground despite assurances made to students in their pre-election campaign that they would openly oppsoe this scheme – many of them signing a National Student Union pledge to vote down any rise in fees.

Cameron, speaking from Seoul, where he is attending the G20 summit, declared: “I believe the will of the public was expressed at the time of the election when they rejected debt and deficit.” Now I find flaw with this statement in two areas.

Firstly, I think the man has a nerve to declare the will of the public granted him a full mandate to make these cuts. When it is plainly obvious that here are at least 50,000 people who oppose these measures, people who had literally just marched from Embankment to Tate Britain in protest. Quite apart from the fact that the Conservatives took power with the narrowest margin in my lifetime, Aaron Porter, NUS president stated recently on hisblog that he estimates 50 per cent of students may have voted Lib Dem in light of their pledge to vote against any rise in university fees. In light of this frankly his statement verges on offensive.

Yes, by will of the people, Mr Cameron has been granted a mandate, but to totally reject the will of those people who didn’t vote for him is both arrogant and rude.

The second and almost more outrageous part of this claim is that Cameron says that the UK has rejected debt and deficit by voting Tory, when he and his government are actually going to increase student debt! I hope I’m not the only one who felt like they’d been slapped in the face after this comment.

With tuition fees in England set to treble this could potentially raise the debt that students go into on a three year degree from £9,000 to £27,000. Although the plan is to increase the threshold of payback to £21,000, it will still leave students beginning university after 2012 in a whole load more of debt than at any previous point in history. As many commentators have pointed out, Mr Cameron and his government didn’t have to pay for their degrees, and I highly doubt many would have even of had to go in to debt to do so. It verges on sheer hypocrisy.

I will admit that we are in a situation where some drastic measures are necessary to get our economy back on track. I am aware that raising fees is one of the few options left to universities with the imminent scrapping of teaching grants. I am actually less frustrated by the extent of the cuts than by our honourable minister’s reactions to them.

What really takes the biscuit is the way the rioters have been condemned as anarchists, youngsters, rebels, socialists, probably even communists, etc. Every political body is trying to play down the fact that at least some of the 200 or so people who broke through the “thin blue line” as Cameron called it, were students, university staff and ordinary people. Is this not evidence enough that our government wants people in our country to think that only extremists are angry? This is simply not the case.

It was the same with the protests over the Iraq war. I remember going down to Princes Street in Edinburgh and seeing it filled with more people than you usually get at Hogmany. By all accounts over 2 million people protested our previous government’s decision to pursue that course of action and it made not the barest hint of difference. It is the same again today.

I am not one to advocate violence. I am not a violent person. But I can feel the frustration boiling in me that led to the 200 hundred storming Tory HQ. For all Aaron Porter’s words, it is likely that his peaceful protest will not make the slightest impact on what cuts the government make.

What we have seen over the last decade in the UK is that peaceful protests haven’t moved our governments one inch. It has been mentioned in the Guardian, and by John Pilger in New Statesman, that a crisis like the one we are coming out off is a great time for governments to implement radical changes for their own benefit. Last week’s mid-term elections in the US sparked heated debates over the policies of President Obama, with some stating that he is held in check from any form of liberal reform by the multi-million dollar investments from corporations that funded his campaign. Is it the same in the UK? It seems that if people in our country are reduced to numbers on a spreadsheet that 50,000 or 2 million people is too few to challenge political policy with simply a peaceful protest.

I can fully understand the frustration that caused people to storm Millbank. I can understand how students feel when the party that said it would reduce their debt triples it instead, and I can understand, no matter what sort of drastic proposals are required, how politicians being flippent about the strife of their constituents can really grind people’s gears.

I’d like to finsh with a quote if I may, and it would be amazing to hear it resounding round the streets of the UK. We have not gone mad in decades and maybe our politicians have forgotten we can. Anyway, it’s a famous line, you’ll know it’s from Network, so I’ll let Harry Beale speak for himself:

“I’m mad as hell! And I’m not going to take it anymore!”

 

Let’s Swap the ‘Big Society’ for a Big Laugh

I read a fantastic article in last Saturdays Times by Tanya Gold. It concerned the BIG Society that Mr Cameron is imagining, but seems that no one else can. The article was written with wit and gusto, and had me chuckling in to my cup of tea while choking on cigarette smoke. But it got me thinking.

It was the writers last few comments that began it. She talked about how the ‘Big Society’ could only be a concept that could be dreamt up by someone that had never wanted for anything before, and has no real idea about certain demographics in our society. I have been thinking about this problem for a while, and it is one of the reasons I try and avoid dabbling in politics – it’s just so frustrating!

Why? Because it has been my humble opinion for years that the gap between politicians and people is too insurmountable for us to bridge without desperate measures. The ‘Big Society’ of Cameron’s dreams is so opaque a concept that it is less a policy and more of a vague idea. It is hard to imagine a world where everyone’s nice to each other, bravely soldier the burdens simply in virtue of the fact that they’re there, when you come from a reality where some, or a few, or many, or everyone, aren’t pleasant to one another.

This was actually pointed out over 2000 years ago by Plato in Republic. At the conclusion of one discussion he informs his interlocutors that those who rule must receive no benefit for ruling. For those who rule must not rule because they want to rule, but because it is best for society. Hence we had the scandal over MP’s expenses claims, we should have seen it coming. Because it is so easy to let them get on with running the country, which I assume must be very boring, than to get more actively involved, so we let them get a few benefits here and there. But a couple of houses? I don’t think so… This is the problem with the notion that society should shoulder that extra burden, we vote for MP’s in virtue of the fact that we don’t want to do to shoulder ourselves!

Of course, I know there must be a few intelligent, witty, charismatic and idealistic individuals entering British politics every year, but the problem is by the time it takes them to get anywhere where they can remotely make any changes to the system – real changes like reducing stupidly high MP salaries, or a proper voting system referendum – they’ve spent so long striving and battling their way up the ranks that when they are eventually promoted they’re not particularly likely to say: “Now I’m here I think we should abandon all the benefits being here rewards us with.” Clearly after working so hard they too want to enjoy these benefits too. And unfortunately, no matter how hard they try to hide it, they lose their sense of humour very early on. A shame, because with a touch of humour we could have the best political system in the world. Ruled by people with wit, charisma, intelligence and idealism – no, not Plato’s Guardians, but comedians!

Good joke I hear you cry, but wait for it. I know most us love good comedy, especially political satire, impressionism, and panel shows – ‘Bremner, Bird and Fortune’, ‘Mock The Week’, ‘Have I Got News For You’, and ‘Brass Eye’ spring to mind. And the reason comedy is so funny is that 90% of the time it is so clever. All the panellists on these shows are sharp enough to disect our society, our politics and what is wrong with them with not only intelligence, bur humour. They are some of the keenest political analysts in the our country, and they are intelligent enough not to go into politics, but to make their living making people laugh about politics. This is a wonder in itself, because to make a lot of us in this country laugh about politics they first have to make us understand politics. This is something politicians in countries all over the world think is generally beyond most of their voters, so they either don’t try, or over-simplify issues, an insult either way you take it.

So lets get the comedians in to power. Of course, there’s no guarantee that comedians could run the country any better than our current politicians, but it might make people take more notice. Through engaging with an audience, a good comedian can get you to understand an issue, laugh about said issue, and actually come away liking them too – wow, who in British politics can do that?