There’s not much that can make a teenager get up at 4am on a Saturday morning. Then again, this was no ordinary Saturday morning, and we are no ordinary teenagers. Actually, that’s not the case; we are ordinary. Depressingly so. Our A-Level exams are under two months away, and as many years have before us, we’re planning our Easter revision cram and frantically swatting up for our immanent mocks. However, there is an underlying futility to all our efforts, as we know that working hard now and doing well is no guarantee for a better life, or even employment at all.
The UK rate of youth unemployment is higher than the European average at over 20%, with more than 950,000 out of work or education in January, the highest number since records began. And youth unemployment is one of the hardest types of unemployment to tackle, as the effects can devastate in later life. According to economist David Blanchflower, unemployed youth are likely to earn lower wages throughout their life, and are even more likely to end up on the dole again. This is not only harmful to us as individuals, but for the government as a whole. Now, they’re more likely to have to pay the dole of hundreds of thousands of unemployed young people, rather than collect the taxes on the wages they would have been earning if only they had stopped to think about what’s best for our young people.
Youth who are Not in Employment Education or Training (NEETs) are growing by the day, and their numbers are expected to surge further after the EMA cuts come into effect. Even the government’s new “replacement” for the scheme will only cover a few thousand, with many more expected to fall into the black hole facing British youth. And even for those of us who stay and do vocational training courses, most are either unable to get a job or can only find one on the minimum wage, almost making all the effort put into getting the qualification pointless. And for those who stay on to higher education, the story remains just as grim. With a critical shortage of places and 9,000 a year tuition fees, many bright but underprivileged kids have been put off from having the best chance at life. One of my friends, who has a science scholarship to an independent school, has decided not to go to university as the 9,000 a year fees are too much. It doesn’t matter if universities offer bursaries or help with funding, when kids (especially those who aren’t from a university background) are already on the fence about whether or not to attend, trebling fees will be the thing that tips you off the UCAS form and onto the Jobcentre register. We might have just lost one of the brightest young scientists Britain has to offer, but we may never know. But how much good would a degree do, if graduate unemployment rises beyond its current rate? 20% of university graduates are currently unable to get a job. When I sit at this computer at 10pm making notes on Gladstone’s handling of the Franco-Prussian War, I can’t help but wonder “If I can’t get a job, what’s the point?”
And so for that reason, thousands of teenagers got up at 4am on Saturday, grabbed their placards and marched through central London. And it was for that reason that they blockaded Oxford Street, and some even smashed windows, and some got arrested. This is the reason for the unrest: young people have nothing to lose. Our reason to march isn’t just motivated by the cuts to the NHS or public services, but our frustration that we are facing the worst prospects for a generation, and our government is doing nothing to stop it. When we march, we march for a future we were promised, but we are being told we will never achieve. We march for employment, for education. We march for the rest of our lives.