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

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.


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

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.

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