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Britain’s shameful generation gap

Fortunate fortysomethings can handle the recession; the price is being paid by people in their twenties

Are you in your twenties? Then you’re paying a colossally high price so that people in my age bracket – 40-plus – can enjoy a rather pleasant recession, thank you very much.

If you were born between 1980 and 1990, bad luck. You probably can’t find a job, as graduate unemployment heads to 20%, and school leaver joblessness approaches 50%. If you do land a job, your wages won’t get you far. Your train fare to work is going up 8%. Need somewhere to live? Rents are hitting one new record high after the next, up 7% in London over the past year. Any spare cash? Save it for the gas bill, up another 15%.

How about buying your own place? Forget it. As Britain’s biggest firm of valuation surveyors revealed this week, mortgage approvals for those on low incomes are becoming virtually impossible to obtain. The idea is that once you’ve been clobbered by stupid rents, train fares and bills, you’re supposed to save up for a 30% deposit if you are going to qualify for a loan. Oh, and pay off a £20,000 debt (soon to be £60,000) from university. Fat chance.

Now let’s look at it from the standpoint of someone in his forties. The generation who didn’t pay to go to university. Who were able to buy a home at bargain-basement prices in the mid-1990s. Who have, for the most part, kept their jobs through the recession. And who now are basking in ultra-low interest rates on their tracker mortgages. For many, it’s been the same as a £500 a month pay rise. Even better, those rates are going to stay low. Thank you, Ben Bernanke at the Federal Reserve for telling us that rates in the US will stay at virtually zero through to mid 2013. The Bank of England will follow suit. It’s why mortgage rates this week hit a record low. But even those record-low five-year fixes won’t tempt me, not when I and many others can joyfully carry on with our juicy sub-2% tracker deals.

The truth is that if you’ve kept your job and have a tracker mortgage, this recession has barely touched the sides. It was like this in the 1930s, too. Yes, there was Jarrow, but if you kept your job, many people never had it so good.

The generation in retirement today don’t quite see it that way, complaining about paltry returns on savings, steep council taxes and soaring household bills. But at least many of them are still on final-salary pensions. The idea that today’s young will retire on a guaranteed two-thirds salary is fanciful in the extreme.

What do we do about this lost generation? Nothing, it seems is the answer. The chancellor, George Osborne, thinks that lopping the 50% tax rate for the rich is the way forward, his ideal society one of the have-yachts and the have-nots. Meanwhile, the likes of my generation and income are snapping up house alarms and window bars as our cities become ever more fearful places.

I would be the last person to condone the hateful criminals responsible for the mindless destruction I witnessed in my part of south-east London. But if we step back a few paces, and consider how we are abandoning that far larger, law-abiding, younger generation, we should be ashamed of ourselves. © Guardian News & Media Limited 2011 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds