‘The young are now living on Planet No’
Professor John Sutherland’s new book argues that the young are being let down by the old
15 March, 2018 — By Dan Carrier
Professor John Sutherland, a Camden Town-based UCL academic
PROFESSOR John Sutherland jokes his latest book is the literary equivalent of him donning a sandwich board and trudging up and down West End streets, declaring the end of the world is nigh.
But for the Camden Town-based UCL academic, there is nothing funny about the topic he has turned his pen towards.
Called The War On The Young, the English academic and author considers the issues that face those aged around 35 and under today – and describes a “ladderless” existence where you have no job security, are laden with debt, and no chance of living in a home you own.
He argues that this appalling situation, a dereliction of duty by the old towards the young that can’t be seen as anything other than deliberate – and that we need to recognise the policies that have created this situation so we can fix it.
The book comes as a reaction to his 2017, The War On The Old. In it he laid out an argument how government policy and societal attitudes lead to the comprehensive neglect of older people.
This time, he discusses how he believes it is no accident that the set up bequeathed to young people today is shockingly bad – from education, jobs and housing, British society is currently organised in a manner that is wrecking the life chances for a generation.
He looks at what life was like for the young John Sutherland – and compares it to day.,
“When I was 27, I owned my first house in Edinburgh. It cost £2,100 and my salary was £1,100 a year,” he recalls.
“Now these houses cost around £1.2m and I somehow don’t think junior lecturers at Edinburgh University get paid £560,000 a year.
“I could marry and form a stable family. “Now 40 per cent of the under-30s live with their parents. You cannot strike out on your own if that is the case.”
And he says the idea we can’t fix the issues over the unaffordability of housing is simply not true – that it is a matter of deliberate policy.
“Neglect is a political strategy, it is just not understood,” he says.
“If you do not put something right, it is a strategic decision – and it can be put it right. After World War Two, Britain was completely broke, but council housing was built – and these houses raised people’s lives, all done when the country was in a state. Now it is said there isn’t enough money to do it, but this invisible thing called the market, which we are supposed to leave it to fix, just does not care. The tenuous argument that there is not enough money is rubbish. It is being spent on things like Trident and HS2.”
He speaks of walking down Parkway, Camden Town – and what it says about London today.
“Parkway used to have a miscellany of shops,” he says. “But Parkway, once a road which symbolised the vibrant heterogeneity of the borough, is now dominated by 18 estate agents all principally marketing rented accommodation. The target clientele is the young. They are ideal – they come, they pay and in a short while they are gone, to make way for the next youthful intake.”
His book touches on what he has observed through teaching at universities for five decades. The threat of post-university debt and a lifetime of job insecurity has not only smashed a generation’s life prospects to pieces, it has – at the moment – stopped them being able to respond, he argues.
“This is the first post-war cohort not to start working life with higher incomes,” he says. “They suffer from the fallacy of full employment. I suspect the slaves of ancient Greece could be called fully employed.”
He adds: “The young, a mass of them worthy of better things, are now living on Planet No. If this isn’t a war of attrition against the young, what is?”
Simply put, he says the crisis of 2008 that caused the Great Recession has decimated Britain through an aggressive austerity agenda. He cites banks, “run at the top by obscenely remunerated old men who blithely awarded themselves annual bonuses hundreds of times the average national wage” as not being asked to pay for causing the crash and instead the burden has fallen on the young.
The crux of Prof Sutherland’s argument can be summarised thus: adults have a responsibility to look after children – therefore, in society, the older generation should care for the next.
In Britain today, this isn’t happening.
• The War On The Young. By John Sutherland, Biteback Publishing £10.