News that in the previous quarter the British economy experienced its
biggest contraction since 2009 is just one statistic amongst dozens
forming a backdrop to this new age of austerity. The Governor of the
Bank of England, Mervyn King, summed up his perspectives for the economy
saying that “a black cloud hangs over investment” whilst he announced
that predictions for growth in 2012 are close to zero.
News that in the previous quarter the British economy experienced its biggest contraction since 2009 is just one statistic amongst dozens forming a backdrop to this new age of austerity. The Governor of the Bank of England, Mervyn King, summed up his perspectives for the economy saying that “a black cloud hangs over investment” whilst he announced that predictions for growth in 2012 are close to zero.
Of course this is all very worrying for the British ruling class who have not only failed in preventing a double-dip recession but are also contending with a weak coalition government as opposed to the Tory majority they had expected. Their only objective is to uphold capitalism and retain the wealth they have amassed from the grinding exploitation of the working class. These interests are increasingly opposed to the genuine concerns of young people who are growing up during the worst economic crisis since the 1930s where a youth unemployment rate of 21.9% (up from 13.6% in December 2007) speaks volumes in answering the question of: do we have a future?
In tackling this question we must consider the future that we, as children who had the potential to become university students, were promised. New Labour came to power in 1997 under the banner of “education, education, education” and this mantra was played out in schools with a push towards as many pupils as possible entering into higher education.
Of course, this led to many positive outcomes as scores of young people were able to be the first in their family to experience a university education and gain a degree. However, there are also more cynical aspects to the policy; it was used in conjunction with the Labour plan to produce lower youth unemployment figures as more students would go from school to further/higher education rather than straight into the job market.
As is the norm with capitalism, this was an ill thought out policy as even during the boom years the job market was then unable to accommodate the number of well educated, young jobseekers – in 2003 13% of recent graduates were unemployed and of the 87% in employment nearly 30% were in low skilled jobs. Of course, this contradiction has only been compounded by the recession – in 2010 over 20% of graduates were unemployed and over one third of those working were in low skilled jobs.
When you consider that many of these graduates spent their school years being told that a degree was a passport to a fruitful and enjoyable career, these figures become even more alarming. Capitalism is only interested in producing profits and thus there is not enough room within the system to allow for the utilisation of skills that thousands of students have learnt at university.
Under socialism a planned economy would allow for a rational distribution where education and skills would be used so as to gain improvements and advancements for society rather than profit.
The introduction of tuition fees of up to £9000 per year at universities in England, Wales and Northern Ireland (and subsequently for non Scottish students in Scotland), combined with the cutting of Educational Maintenance Allowances (EMAs) in England, led to a series of radical student protests during the winter of 2010.
This reaction came from thousands of students who recognised that these new measures would result in entering higher education becoming a huge sacrifice for all but the privileged minority.
The tripling of fees came at a time when Britain, as is now, was in the midst of an unprecedented recession; youth unemployment was on the rise and, even more so than before, education was seen as one of few roads out of immediate unemployment with a degree also offering the possibility of gaining a good job after graduation.
The cutting of EMAs also made the cost of post-16 education a new concern for the poorest children in Britain. These measures signalled the end of any appearance of education being the root out of poverty as the most disadvantaged are turned off by financial worries.
The Tory led coalition is clearly signalling a return to the idea that education is a luxury only available to those who can afford to pay for it. The cuts to EMAs and increases in fees must also be viewed as a part of the ruling class’s response to the financial crisis.
They are only interested in ensuring the capitalist system remains in place; this means that workers and their families must pay government debts, which were amassed in bank bailouts, through cuts and austerity.
Students starting university this year will be the first intake to experience the new fees. Figures for this year’s UCAS cycle show that applications from the UK are down by nearly 9% compared to last year.
In England, applications are down by 10% compared to a 2.2% fall in Scotland (where Scottish domiciled students do not have to pay tuition fees at Scottish universities), though the number of Scottish students applying to English universities has fallen by 16%.
The decline in applications according to subject is also interesting; the biggest fall was seen in applications for non European languages at nearly 21% with combined arts and creative arts and design experiencing declines of 16.7% and 16.4% respectively. The only increase in a named subject group was seen in medicine related subjects at 0.3% and the smallest falls were seen in physical sciences at 0.9% and engineering at 2%.
The statistics appear to be suggesting that students who have made the decision to take on the debt of higher education are electing for subject choices that are thought to have a higher degree of employability.
Here we are seeing applicants being forced into an economic mindset rather than following their own interests with degrees being viewed as an addition to the CV rather than an opportunity for intellectual exploration.
Situation for Youth
With the recession still ongoing and the bank of England’s prediction for flatline growth, many students’ sacrifices are likely to be in vain.
Countries across Europe are experiencing massive increases in youth unemployment with statistics standing at 51.2% in Greece, 51.1% in Spain and 35.9% in Italy; across the EU overall the rate of unemployment amongst 15-24 year olds is 22.6%. The state of British capitalism has been and will continue to be affected by the downturn amongst the Euro zone countries due to the debt being held in British banks and countries within the EU being our main trading partners.
The unplanned nature of capitalism and greed of the ruling classes means that working class people, students and the unemployed are being forced to pay for a crisis they did not create as services are being cut and opportunities for employment are declining. Meanwhile, the millionaires of the cabinet, bankers and CEOs are unaffected and continue to enjoy their privileges.
Even amongst young people such as ourselves who have been able to enter into higher education there are many doubts about our futures post graduation.
For young people leaving school aged 16/17 the situation is even bleaker; their level of unemployment stands at 40%, which is only compounded by the fact that Job Seeker’s Allowance is unavailable to under 18s. These conditions, where young people are seeing opportunities continually being closed off to them, are the backdrop to events such as the riots of last summer.
Capitalism is an irrational system that is incapable of providing a future for the majority of young people as resources are simply exploited in order to provide extreme wealth for a select few.
Only under socialism, where the needs of society as a whole are catered for through a planned economy, can we provide hope and opportunities for the masses of children and young people.