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Philip Hammond’s ‘Millennial Railcard’ is an insult to a generation he doesn’t actually intend to help

In tomorrow’s Budget, Chancellor Philip Hammond is expected to announce that free railcards will be offered to millennials, as part of an attempt to court younger voters.

First published by The Independent

In tomorrow’s Budget, Chancellor Philip Hammond is expected to announce that free railcards will be offered to millennials, as part of an attempt to court younger voters.

According to the Resolution Foundation, millennials are the first generation in modern times to be worse off than their parents. Wages outstripped by inflation, degrading living standards and a worse quality of life is the reality for millions of young people across the UK. We struggle to make ends meet, we’re unable to save anything from our pay checks – and not because we’re feckless or lazy, or obsessed with avocado toast and Pret sandwiches.

Sure, we’d like to stop pouring our wages into the pockets of private landlords who charge rip-off rents, but the average deposit for a first home is currently £49,639 and in London it’s £106,500. How can you save when everything you earn goes towards simply existing? Unless you have extremely well-off parents, or are able to live rent-free in your family home for years, you haven’t got a chance.

The UK is in the grip of a severe housing crisis. House building has stagnated due to the irresponsible and avoidant approaches of both New Labour and Conservative governments. A lack of affordable homes means that people are forced to rent for longer, often at astronomical prices, and the coffers of landlords are too regularly topped up from the public purse through housing benefit payments.

What’s more, a third of all privately rented homes in Britain fail to meet the Decent Homes Standard, because landlords are more interested in taking money than ensuring that their tenants live in safe conditions. I’ve lived in eight different privately rented properties since I was nineteen and I’ve had enough eczema, chest infections, mouldy wallpaper, lukewarm water and wet plug sockets to last me a lifetime.

Millennials are more likely to be working insecure jobs than previous generations of young people, and those in unstable work have a higher risk of suffering from poor mental health. Due to a lack of graduate jobs and opportunities, young people who are overqualified or underemployed also report higher levels of anxiety and depression.

Conservative policies have left an entire generation behind. Some of us are “just about managing” – but many of us are not managing at all.

But, this will all be solved by a brand spanking new railcard, apparently. The lack of understanding of what is happening to young people in the real world is astounding. When 30-year-olds need a railcard to travel, that’s a definitive sign of a failing economy.

Philip Hammond claims ‘there are no unemployed people’ ahead of budget

A “Millennial Railcard” will not solve years of austerity. It will not solve the housing crisis, the employment crisis or any other crisis, for that matter. The free railcard is a sticking plaster solution. It’s laughably weak at best, and downright insulting at worst.

Labour under Jeremy Corbyn is the credible alternative for young people who have been successively victimised and undercut by Tory policies designed to appeal to a wealthier older generation. Corbyn’s Labour has stripped austerity of its invisibility cloak and represents a choice wholly separate from the Tories’ failed neoliberal agenda.

The 2017 Labour election promises of a much-needed house building programme, the scrapping of tuition fees, and the introduction of a real living wage showed young people that Labour was listening to them. This Tory attempt to woo young voters away from Corbyn with a shiny freebie is woefully inadequate.

(Also, if we renationalised our inefficient and overpriced railways, young people wouldn’t need a railcard to be able to afford to travel. Just a thought!)

Millennials want stable, quality jobs where we can receive reliable hours, a living wage and some form of career progression. We don’t want to spend our adult lives saddled with tens of thousands of pounds of student debt and insecurity.

We need to be protected as private tenants, pay reasonable rents and live in accommodation that’s fit for human habitation – something the Conservative government doesn’t think is necessary.

We want to be able to buy our first home, even if we don’t have the bank of Mum and Dad to rely on. If we’re unemployed or too sick to work, we want to be treated with dignity.

A railcard just isn’t going to cut it. Sorry.

 

The Sunday Times

Contributions to The Sunday Times can be found here.

Why is Terry Richardson, who shot Miley Cyrus’s Wrecking Ball video, still feted by fashionistas?

Fashion silent on Terry Richardson’s foul ‘party trick’

Actress drags Disney into Weinstein scandal

Bank of Mum and Dad angers millennials forced to rent 

Rise of self-harm generation as youth cases soar

Lincolnshire has the worst record for dog theft

Michael Fallon’s plan to introduce cadet units into state schools isn’t a real solution to the UK’s education crisis

After seven years of Tory rule and the brutal ravages of austerity, we are a country in desperate need of a clear programme to boost social mobility. Fallon’s laughable plan is not the answer to our deeply segregated school system.

First published by the Independent

Today’s announcement from Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon that 31 new cadet units have been approved in state schools is yet another example of the Conservative Party’s short-sighted and disingenuous approach to tackling inequality in Britain.

After seven years of Tory rule and the brutal ravages of austerity, we are a country in desperate need of a clear programme to boost social mobility. Fallon’s laughable plan is not the answer to our deeply segregated school system.

Speaking at the Albion Academy, Fallon said: “Cadets help instil values of discipline and loyalty. They develop leadership skills and confidence. For too long cadet units have been the preserve of independent schools but thanks to this Conservative Government more children in state schools will reap the benefits.”

t might be news to Fallon, but children who attend independent schools are not 2.5 times as likely to go to a top university than their state school counterparts simply because they had access to a cadet unit.

Surely if the Conservative government was truly committed to matching the advantages of a private education, the conversation would be around reducing class sizes, ensuring access to nutritious breakfasts and lunches, raising aspirations and preparing children for Russell Group universities.

In the UK, our education system is one of the most socially divided in the developed world. The reading age of children from disadvantaged backgrounds lags a shocking three years behind that of their wealthier peers. While only 7 per cent of the general population went to a private school, fee-paying school leavers are vastly overrepresented in top professions including law, politics, media and the financial sector.

Private institutions are finishing schools for our future MPs and CEOs, and while a private school education isn’t an indicator of intelligence or academic prowess, attendees are five times as likely to attend Oxbridge as those who didn’t attend a fee-paying school. And I would bet my bank balance that this isn’t because they can enjoy a weekend of mountain biking or archery with their cadet unit.

As more middle class parents decide that local state schools are “undesirable” after poor Ofsted results, (Ofsted is a highly-politicised, Tory-introduced and controversial departmental process in itself), they ensure that their offspring are accepted into the nearest grammar or business-backed academy, or pay to go private.

Every parent wants the best for their child, but those with the money for school fees or private coaching ahead of the 11+ are automatically able to place their kids in a more advantageous position. As children from better-off families are “skimmed” out of state schools, we see a lack of socio-economic diversity in many comprehensives up and down the country.

To boost social mobility and help disadvantaged children reach their full potential, we should address the Tory cuts that have widened the chasm of inequality in our schools. Cuts to Sure Start centres, cuts that force parents to crowdfund for whiteboards, computers and crossing attendants, and cuts that leave comprehensives with no choice but to make their school days shorter must be reversed as a matter of priority.

Perhaps private schools, raking vast amounts of money in yearly fees, should be forced to give up their charitable status and be expected to pay the full rate of tax? Just an idea.

The Conservative Party is incapable of clearing up the mess they’ve made of education. Even their summer election pledge to inject £4bn into education was found by the National Audit Office to actually result in 9,000 more schools facing extreme cuts.

Fallon’s plan to introduce cadet units into state schools isn’t a real solution, or even a flimsy sticking plaster. It’s just another example of the Tories’ inability to recognise the true causes of educational inequality.

Two years on from his election, I support Jeremy Corbyn because he continues to voice inconvenient truths

Like it or not, Jeremy Corbyn has fundamentally altered the discourse of British politics. In 2015, he stood for Labour leader on a clear anti-austerity platform. He tore the wool from our eyes regarding the supposed “inevitability” of brutal welfare cuts and benefit sanctions.

First published by The Independent, 12th September 2017

Two years ago today, Jeremy Corbyn was elected leader of the Labour Party. He won a landslide victory with 59.9 per cent of first-preference votes in the first round of voting, despite securing the lowest number of nominations from fellow MPs. Corbyn received more votes than any of the other candidates (Yvette Cooper, Andy Burnham and Liz Kendall) put together.

Since then, Corbyn has been transformed from an unkempt backbencher, quietly voting on the right side of history over Iraq, LGBT marriage, climate change and tuition fees, into a true statesman. He has proved himself more than worthy as Leader of the Opposition, combating the jeering and bullying behaviour of Tory MPs during Prime Minister’s Questions with his characteristic dignity and control.

During the election campaign, he managed to clearly highlight Theresa May’s contempt for the public she’s expected to serve, simply by doing what he does best – connecting with people. On each campaign stop, he spent time talking to people of all ages, from all backgrounds and walks of life, unfiltered and with clarity and compassion.

As Theresa May’s presidential-style election campaign descended into an embarrassing farce during the general election she promised not to call and then did, and as she refused to even debate Corbyn face-to-face, young people and first-time voters gained a renewed sense of purpose and energy. The disillusioned and the disinterested were revitalised by the prospect of a Labour government. The tireless campaigning of Labour activists all over Britain saw Labour take back historically Conservative seats like Canterbury and gain 40 per cent of the popular vote.

The next morning, many seasoned political pundits were forced to acknowledge that they hadn’t been listening to voters and they hadn’t been listening to the alternative Jeremy Corbyn offered. They’d been stuck in the past, insisting that there was no way Corbyn could be elected while ignoring the basic facts about actual voters in 2017.

In the aftermath of the devastating terror attacks in Manchester and London this year, Corbyn was brave and principled enough to acknowledge the inconvenient truth that Britain’s support of foreign wars is inextricably linked to the rise in terrorism at home. His sobering assessment that Conservative cuts to policing have left us vulnerable was worth more than any empty platitudes from Theresa May, who presided over these cuts as Home Secretary.

Like it or not, Jeremy Corbyn has fundamentally altered the discourse of British politics. In 2015, he stood for Labour leader on a clear anti-austerity platform. He tore the wool from our eyes regarding the supposed “inevitability” of brutal welfare cuts and benefit sanctions.

Theresa May: Corbyn continually asks for money to be spent on “this, that and the other”

He exposed austerity as the ideological decision to place the burden of the global banking crisis and subsequent recession on the shoulders of the most vulnerable people in our society, and presented a fully costed, economically viable manifesto in the 2017 general election that would eradicate the need for cruel and unjust austerity measures.

Jeremy Corbyn might not be in Number 10 yet, but I’m proud to have voted for him in two leadership elections and for a Labour government under him in this year’s general election. Britain needs a leader with Corbyn’s principles, his vision and his unwavering sense of compassion.

Forget bigoted throwbacks like Jacob Rees-Mogg, who uses Catholicism to justify the idea that women who have been raped shouldn’t get abortions.

Corbyn is our Prime Minister in waiting. Bring on the next general election.

“These issues are high up Corbyn’s agenda”: Maxine Peake on the crisis in social housing

“We need to start valuing people who live on estates and valuing the estates themselves. Bricks and concrete don’t cause societal problems – they’re caused by inequality.”

First published by New Statesman, 25th August 2017

“I believe that a Labour government under Jeremy Corbyn could go some way towards solving this issue. That’s one of the reasons we’re behind him, he’s a viable option and these issues are high up on his agenda.”

Maxine Peake is discussing the housing crisis, and in particular the decimation of social housing that is the subject of a new documentary she is narrating.

Dispossession: The Great Social Housing Swindle tackles the causes of Britain’s social housing crisis and gives a voice to tenants whose homes are threatened by action from local councils and private developers.

The stats are starkly revealing. In 1980, 40 per cent of Britain’s population lived in social housing. Today, less than 8 per cent do, and around 1.7 million people are stuck on waiting lists.

“Areas in London have just become full of Airbnb rentals,” says Peake. “There’s no community because people don’t actually live there, they just stay for two weeks, four weeks, a couple of days.

“People think, ‘I can make some money here’ and that just feeds into the sense that housing is about ‘oh, what can I gain?’ The whole purpose of the home becomes lost if it’s seen as an assert to trade on.”

Directed by Paul Sng (Sleaford Mods: Invisible Britain), Dispossession takes the viewer on a whistlestop tour of housing policy from the end of the Second World War right up to the present day. It lays the blame for the depletion of social housing stock at the door of both Conservative and New Labour governments.

“Margaret Thatcher’s a major part of why this country’s in the terrible state that it is, but you can also blame Tony Blair,” says Sng. “In the 13 years of New Labour, fewer houses were built than under Thatcher’s government, because Blair and Gordon Brown ran with Thatcher’s policy.

“It’s now obvious that the market economics that Thatcher forcefully pushed through, the absolute faith in the market to deliver housing – it hasn’t worked.”

Perhaps most disturbingly, Dispossession highlights a deliberate strategy on the part of local councils to allow social housing stock to fall into disrepair, so they can embark on costly “regeneration” projects with private developers. These have seen estates bulldozed and tenants forced from their homes.

Communities are broken apart and people are moved out of the area they may have lived in their whole lives, away from family, friends and support networks. For vulnerable people, this can be an act of terrible cruelty.

Sng spent many years of his young life in social housing, and says “poverty porn” programmes such as Benefits Street are created to make viewers “feel good about themselves” – and to reinforce negative perceptions of council tenants. Dispossession includes interviews with social housing tenants in London, Glasgow and Nottingham.

Eileen and Micheal O’Keeffe have lived on the Cressingham Gardens estate in Tulse Hill for 41 years, but their home is now under threat from Lambeth Council. They describe attending the weddings of their neighbours’ children, leaving the viewer in no doubt that the sense of community and relationships they’ve built have been formed organically over many, many years. These community bonds can’t be quickly rebuilt elsewhere, should (as they fear) Lambeth raze the estate and sell the highly lucrative land to private developers. (Lambeth Council say that the proposal for Cressingham Gardens is for the estate to be regenerated by Homes for Lambeth, which will be wholly-owned by Lambeth Council and any plans would replace all council properties on Cressingham Gardens, with new homes at council-level rents.)

Dispossession feels very necessary, particularly in the wake of the Grenfell Tower tragedy. It approaches the national scandal of social housing with extraordinary precision and compassion. With an estimated 4,134 people living on the streets in Britain – while 200,000 properties have stood empty for more than six months – it’s clear that our approach to housing needs a radical overhaul.

“I’m supposedly a successful actress and I couldn’t buy until I was 32, and I had to move back up north, because I wanted a house,” says Peake. “This is over 11 years ago, and the situation has become so much worse since then. It’s the younger generation I really feel for.

“Everyone needs to see this film. It’s a documentary about where were are socially and it’s as important as I, Daniel Blake.”

According to Sng, his film is about value. “Not about property values, but about who is valued. If Grenfell can tell us anything, it’s that the people who lived there were not valued by the council, but that’s not a phenomenon that’s just confined to Kensington and Chelsea.

“We need to start valuing people who live on estates and valuing the estates themselves. Bricks and concrete don’t cause societal problems – they’re caused by inequality.”

Dispossession: The Great Social Housing Swindle will be screening in selected theatres from August to November.