This is what ‘generation rent’ need to hear from Ed Miliband in order to vote Labour next year

Soaring student debt, a lack of affordable housing and draconian benefit sanctions: these are the things that matter to young voters

First published by The Independent, 8th August 2014

With the General Election on its way, my generation of over-qualified, under-paid 20-somethings are starting to wonder who we want to be represented by.

On an internship, I was asked to transcribe the whole of Ed Miliband’s Desert Island Discs episode. It was late and I hadn’t eaten because they refused to subsidise my travel and food expenses. I listened to the music Ed had chosen and wanted to believe that he was better than the current chap we’ve got in Downing Street, regardless of the fact that he seems to find eating in public a bit of a struggleSo Ed, it’s all on you. I come from a family of disillusioned Labour supporters, turned Green since the Iraq war. If I’m to vote for Labour next year, I’d like you to make some meaningful promises, despite the fact that the very phrase smacks of the oxymoronic.

The London Housing Bubble
I’m really pleased that Labour is addressing the housing crisis, particularly in Britain’s capital. Private landlords are getting fat while London rents are rising by more than 10 percent annually. We need to see some tough controls on rent prices and ‘cowboy’ landlords who collect huge sums of money for cramped, cold, dilapidated, and in some cases, vermin-infested rental properties. You’ve promised to build 200,000 new homes by 2020. Make good on this, and consider following Scotland’s example by making rip-off letting agents fees unlawful in England and Wales.

Energy Prices
You’ve pledged to freeze energy prices until 2017. That’s a good start, but it’s not enough. The ‘big six’ energy companies have already ridden roughshod over the finances of those already struggling to make ends meet. The ‘big six’ must be held to account and prevented from hiking prices once your freeze is over. If you’ve ever had to choose between paying an energy bill and buying food, you’ll understand why this is important.

Higher Education
I have £21k of student debt. I am one of the lucky ones. I want you to scrap the £9k per year tuition fees. They should never have been introduced. If you’re worried about too many people currently attending university, think about expanding the options available for those who’re more suited to apprenticeships and vocational qualifications. It would also be great if the Student Loans Company could provide loans for postgraduate degrees. Currently, the grants and bursaries available to those interested in furthering their studies are few and far between. If you have the inclination and ability to complete a Masters degree or a PhD, you need to have wealthy parents who can pay your way. It’s crude to place income as the deciding factor in educational advancement.

The Detention of Women
Ed, I’m calling on you to end the detention of women in Removal Centres like Yarl’s Wood. The women who seek protection in the UK have fled from political and religious persecution, and institutionalized homophobia. They have experienced rape, torture and Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). They should not be locked up indefinitely in a prison where allegations of Serco guards behaving inappropriately and sexually abusing detainees are rife. These women have not committed a crime, so why do we hold them?

Benefit Sanctions
The draconian set of sanctions introduced under the coalition government is pushing Britain back into a nightmarish state of Victorian inequality. The new sanction rules for Job Seeker’s Allowance came into effect in October 2012, leaving a trail of destruction in their wake. Turn this around, Ed. Scrap the sanctions. Our national debt should not be reduced through the targeting of the most vulnerable. It is estimated that just 2 percent of total annual fraud in the UK is down to benefit fraud. 69% of total fraud is down to tax evasion. Follow the numbers. It isn’t the poor who are screwing Britain over.

One last thing, Ed, please don’t replace the current Cabinet with another Eton Mess.

Author: harrietpwilliamson