Article taken from the Evening Standard, 9/02/2011 – Richard Godwin
When the images of youths revolting in Tunis and Cairo first appeared on our TV screens, a few wry comparisons were made. So Arab students are taking to the streets for democracy, yeah? The only thing that rouses our lot is the prospect of actually having to pay for the right to stay in bed until noon and jibber on about philosophy.
It goes without saying that the circumstances are very different. One protest has an autocratic regime to contend with; the other was the site of the Vice magazine fashion shoot. Still, there is a more profound link between events in London, Cairo and Tunis, as well as the less-reported youth-led uprisings of Belgrade, Tirana and Nicosia. And it’s not just a certain social networking site.
These protests are, in their various ways, expressions of anger from a generation who see a future of joblessness, economic insecurity and rising inequality. After 30 years of free-market ideology dominating global economic policy we have somehow reached a stage where young people expect to be worse off than their parents.
the youthful edge of the Egyptian protests reflects the fact that under 30s represent 91% of the country’s 9.4% unemployed. The catalyst for the uprising in Tunisia was the self-immolation of Mohamed Bouazizi, a 26 year old graduate denied the right to even sell vegetables in a country where the youth unemployment rate is estimated at 30%.
No one set fire to themselves in the Parliament Square kettle, thank God.
All the same, it is misguided to dismiss our own students protests as a piddly local issue affecting only the privileged. What they reflected more widely is the marginalisation of the young.
Britain’s teenagers are told they need a high degree of education to get ahead in the global job market, but having obtained it, expensively, they find the market has no use for it.
Other means to get ahead – from Sure Start schemes to libraries – are being removed by politicians who lack the will or the imagination to look further than the next election. The latest youth unemployment figures are shocking: 951,000 under-25s out of work in the three months up to November, the highest rate (20.3%) since records began in 1992. That will stay with today’s youth long into the next recovery, with far-reaching effects on our crime rate, NHS bills and welfare payments.
The same trend is true worldwide – in fact, it has reached epidemic proportions. The International Labour Organisation estimates that 81 million young people across the world are jobless. That’s an awful lot of potential energy going to waste.
Unless we challenge the thinking that puts profits over people, shareholder rewards over job creation and short-term savings over long-term planning, there are only going to be more angry scenes. What the young do not need any more of is to be patronised.
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