The Equality and Human Rights Commision (EHRC), a non-governmental public body established in 2006 with the aim of promoting and enforcing equality legislation in the UK, has released a report claiming that over the past five years, the economic prospects of Britain’s youth population have reached an all-time low.
The report, ‘Is Britain Fairer?’, indicated that those under 34 had suffered the sharpest decline with regard to pay and employment, had lost access to decent housing and jobs, and that many young people in this country were facing deepening levels of poverty. The report, which aimed to analyse whether life had become fairer in the UK over recent years, warned that young people ‘have the worst economic prospects for several generations’.
According to official statistics, released by the House of Commons library for labour, youth unemployment now stands at a shocking 14.4%, indicating that young people now fare comparatively worse in the labour market than at any point since 1992. The commissioner for the EHRC, Laura Carstensen, argued that young people are having to cope with the worst economic prospects, in spite of the fact that ‘theirs are the shoulders on which the country will rely to provide for a rapidly ageing population’. The report also indicated that poverty has a far more negative impact on education than before, only further accentuating the difficulty young people face in a time of great economic and social turbulence. This is undoubtedly a direct result of the heinous austerity measures imposed on the British working class since the advent of the economic crisis. With the introduction of legislation limiting individuals rights in the work place – zero hour contracts, restrictions on the right to strike etc. – the youth of today are facing generation upon generation of economic alienation.
For Marxists, the findings of this report come as no shock. It is clear to us that in a time of economic crisis the first section of society to be attacked under the neo-liberal capitalist system is usually those under 25 – forcing young people out of the workplace and into the reserve army of labour. As Marx himself put it ‘a surplus labouring population is a necessary product of accumulation or of the development of capitalstic accumulation’. This is a trend that can be seen not only in Britain, but throughout Europe, with Youth Unemployment reaching an astounding 47% in Spain, 25% in France and 48% in Greece in the last quarter. By ensuring there is a substantial reserve army of labour which they can utilise, the capitalists can continue to attack workers’ rights and conditions, on the basis that they can hire and fire as and when they see fit.
The findings of the Equality and Human Rights Commission paint a bleak picture for the future of British society. Disenfranchised, disengaged and facing uncertainty it would be easy to write off the generation of millennials as a ‘Generation Lost’, ‘lost’ to an economic system that is consistently and systematically attacking their rights both at home and in the workplace from every angle. However, as Marxists we are far too optimistic to resign ourselves to this way of thinking. The youth of today have incredible potential to carry through the greatest social and economic change in human history. With the massive strengthening of the working class today, coupled with the rise of new technology (including social media and networking) there has never been greater potential for successful socialist revolution on a global scale. Our task is thus to build the forces of Marxism, to educate ourselves in historical materialism and dialectical philosophy, ready for when the youth of Britain, and the young people of the globe, unite as one to say ‘no’ to capitalist exploitation!
by Jack Ashworth, Manchester Marxists