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.

 

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.

Illumination 05 – Sarah Milton

Actor and playwright Sarah Milton speaks about being diagnosed with panic disorder and her new play, Tumble Tuck.

‘Illumination’ is a new series that explores the relationship between mental illness and creativity. I’m interviewing people engaged in art, music, theatre and many more creative avenues and inviting them to open up about their mental wellbeing and the way their struggles with mental health may inform their work. 

If any of the issues discussed in this interview affect you, there are lots of online resources that can help. Visit Mind or the Mental Health Foundation for more information. Alternatively, you can call the Samaritans on 116 123 at any time of the day or night.

Words by Sarah Milton, as told to Harriet Williamson.

I’m a professional actor and playwright. I write spoken word, poetry, plays and perform mine and other’s work.

I’m performing Tumble Tuck, my one woman play about the definition of success, at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival at The Underbelly (Iron Belly) 3-27th August at 1.30pm, every day. Another play of mine, called Lucy Light, is opening at the Theatre N16, London on September 19th for three weeks.

I’ve always found theatre to be the most fascinating way of expressing ideas and truly connecting with a group of people. There is something so beautiful and raw about a room of people listening and engaging with the live drama unfolding in front of them and experiencing active empathy and various emotional reactions. I believe theatre has the potential to better human beings and this idea is the driving force behind the majority of my work.

I have a panic disorder. This was diagnosed in 2009, and I’ve been on and off medication for it since. I’m currently using medication and I haven’t had a panic attack for over a month which is fantastic!

I practise yoga, which has contributed massively to improving both my mental and physical health. Yoga is phenomenal, and I’m going to do my teacher training in September. However, whenever I do feel anxious, I list colours and describe things I’m walking past or can see. Sometimes I’ll ring someone close to me, usually my mum, and let her know I’m having a panic attack and she’ll ask me questions to distract and bring my head back to earth. Also, sleeping properly, napping and drinking water helps.

Sometimes it stops me writing, and sometimes it informs my writing on a deeper level. I’m a binge writer, so I write many things in a compact space of time and then spend weeks thinking about the next piece I could write. I have to be in a healthy frame of mind to find the confidence to write.

Since opening up about my panic disorder, I’ve found that I’m no longer ashamed of the way I am. I’ve learned more about how many people do suffer with varying degrees of poor mental health, which has inspired my writing. Tumble Tuck focusses on self-worth and Daisy, the lead character, is very honest about needing counselling and support. This touches on my personal experience of counselling and discussing my issues in a professional, non-judgemental environment.

I think without my experience of anxiety, feeling low, and my journey to opening up about it, a lot of my work wouldn’t exist. So that has to be a positive way of looking at it.

Don’t get stuck at your screen all day, every day, writing ‘the masterpiece’. Walk. Do an exercise class. Choose water, not coffee. Have a day where you do anything but creative stuff; don’t write, don’t watch, don’t read up on or anything about work. Don’t forget to take time to breathe. Restrict social media usage.

Call your family and friends often and get confident in maintaining that dialogue with your GP. You are not wasting anyone’s time. Your wellbeing and mental health are valid and it’s important to communicate anything associated to it, to a health professional.  Remind yourself every day that you’re worthy, because you are.

 

Sarah Milton’s play Tumble Tuck tells the story of a young woman struggling to accept herself and realise her strength and seeks to examine the pressure we put on young people.

@backheretheatre // @FollowTheCow // @TumbleTuckPlay // #TumbleTuck

Theresa May saying she’d love the superpower ‘to end hunger’ in Vogue is an insult to people starving because of Tory policies

It seems grotesque in the extreme that in one of the world’s wealthiest and most developed countries, people are starving on the Government’s watch and due to their policies.

First published by The Independent, 21st March 2017

One of the most heartbreaking scenes in Ken Loach’s austerity tear-jerker I, Daniel Blake is where young mum Katie Morgan is forced to use a food bank. She is met by kindness and understanding from the food bank volunteers, a marked difference from the Job Centre staff who sanctioned her for being a few minutes late, in a new city, with two young children to feed. After putting a few items in a bag, Katie tears open a tin of baked beans, scoops them out with her hand and eats them cold, shaking and white-faced. She has been denying herself meals in order to keep her children fed. She is starving.

I, Daniel Blake might be fictional, but it is created from the testimonies of real benefit claimants and those working inside the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP). It’s estimated that four million people in the UK are currently going hungry due to low wages, inflated utility prices and punitive welfare sanctions. This figure includes 500,000 young children.

In a recent interview with Vogue, our Prime Minister Theresa May was asked what her superpower would be if she had one. She responded: “I think I’d want to make sure that everyone in the world had access to clean water and sufficient food so that we didn’t see people starving.”

The blatant hypocrisy in May’s answer is staggering. She is the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. She doesn’t need a comic book “superpower” to ensure that people have enough food to eat – she could introduce policies that would reverse the effects of Tory austerity that have led to widespread hunger in her own country. She could move to scrap the hated Bedroom Tax and unfair benefit sanctions that are applied to claimants for a myriad of petty offences.

We cannot forget that it is the decision to impose austerity that has caused so much suffering and distress for Britain’s most vulnerable people. Despite what the Conservative government would have us believe, the cuts imposed on welfare and local services were ideological, not inevitable.

Job Centres can strip claimants of their only source of income for weeks on end for being late or missing appointments, even in the case of falling seriously ill and being hospitalised or the death of a loved one. Cruel sanctions are applied to those with learning difficulties for failing to fill out forms correctly or for those an advisor feels “hasn’t done enough to look for work”. Numerous documents have been released detailing how DWP staff are encouraged to sanction a certain quota of people, risking losing out on annual benefits if they do not.

The Trussell Trust is the largest provider of foodbank services in the UK, and states that the primary causes of referrals to their services are benefit delays (27.95 per cent) and low income (23.31 per cent). Other causes include debt, homelessness, domestic violence, sickness and unemployment. In the 2015-16 financial year, the Trussell Trust reported that they distributed more than 1.1 million parcels of food meant to last for three days, and that more than a third of the aid distributed went to children.

The ex-soldier and diabetic David Clapson died hungry and penniless in Stevenage, Herts, in 2014 after having his benefits sanctioned. Mark Wood, a man with complex mental health problems, starved to death four months after his benefits were stopped in Bampton, Oxfordshire in 2013. He was found “fit to work” by the DWP, despite his doctor’s categorical assertion that he was “extremely unwell and absolutely unfit for any work whatsoever”.

It seems grotesque in the extreme that in one of the world’s wealthiest and most developed countries, people are starving on the Government’s watch and due to their policies. Theresa May is arguably the most powerful woman in the UK, and to say “I want to end hunger” in a fashion magazine interview while ignoring the millions of food insecure people in her own country is a grave insult to the people who have died due to DWP decisions and their families.

It’s an insult to those scraping to get by, those who are chronically ill, disabled, struggling to raise children, working more than one job in an effort to make ends meet and still not quite managing it. It’s an insult to the whole of Britain.

You don’t need a superpower, Theresa May. If you really wanted to make sure everyone has enough to eat, you’d be undoing the work of David Cameron and Iain Duncan Smith – and fast.