Deliverance Day minus 5. Politics has been described as the art of compromise, reconciling conflicting demands with what is possible and limited resources. Politics is all about having the will to make things happen and about prioritising where resources are to be directed. Like a parent in a toy shop telling their child that they cannot have a toy because they cannot afford it, the money has run out. The choice gets more difficult when the decision is about food to eat or shoes for the kids. It is a situation that millions of parents face each week. In the coming four years more people are going to experience that situation, including people who thought they were well off and secure. It will come as a shock to those young enough not to have experienced the 80s and 90s. But the people who we must feel most for are the young who have done as they were told. Diligent at school, gone to college or university, studied hard, obtained a degree or diploma, and are now looking for a job. They would enjoy a short period of independence before settling down, buying a house on a mortgage and starting a family. It may seem old fashioned but it is still the aspiration of most. The reality is and will be that they leave higher education with a debt and will find it increasingly hard to find permanent paid employment. Without that they will not be able to afford a mortgage, buy a house, marry and start a family. The young are our future and seed corn.
So which of the three main parties have produced a manifesto for the young? They will all point to individual promises which they say are designed to help young people. None of them have put together a package of coherent proposals that chart a course for the young to follow. It’s as if they have been told to fend for themselves and find your own path. We have allowed this to happen and build up over the last fifty years by standing back to let the professional politicians run the show without holding them to account. We are all to blame for staying silent and abrogating responsibility.
A survey in the 80s found that an ordinary working man wanted a job that paid him enough so he could afford to buy a house and bring up his family. He then wanted enough to buy a modest car and take an annual holiday, preferably abroad. His other requirements were education for his children and health care when needed. If after that he could put some money aside for a rainy day, he was settled. Since then, those aspirations have grown as people have become greedy. Now it is two cars, more than one holiday preferably on the other side of the world, a second home in the country or by the sea, and speculation instead of safe saving. It wasn’t sustainable and it had to crash. People will have to get back to those basic 80s aspirations, if they are lucky.
In terms of priorities we must provide a foundation that gives the young a clear pathway towards a successful and satisfying future. It must be certain and stable with defined objective boundaries and a moral framework. With proper support they can start the journey of life.
In practical terms we can list what is required. To start with we need to improve ante-natal and neo-natal health services. Early years support is essential and when things go wrong early intervention will be required. Part-time nursery and then infant education up to the age of seven will be less formal. It will be about learning how to learn, and how to communicate with and relate to others. From seven to thirteen there will be junior education providing a broad and general syllabus. At fourteen senior education would start with a choice between academic or skills and vocational education and training. These separate routes will lead to further or higher education at age eighteen. At age seventeen there would be the opportunity for a year of voluntary service at home or abroad in a Peace Corps, or non-active military service. From age nineteen there would be a return to the opportunities that we use to enjoy. More access to paid employment that provides on the job training and day release for professional qualifications; or guaranteed access to universities, colleges of further education, or polytechnics. We must remove the snobbery that use to apply for these various qualifications. Business must accept a responsibility for supporting non-employed undergraduates through sponsorship and non-term work experience with pay. There could even be a guarantee of full-time paid employment for a certain period [say three years] after graduation. University courses must be more intense and of shorter duration. The aim would be to graduate or obtain a professional qualification by age twenty-one.
During this journey to adulthood there will be full healthcare provision and no charges for education and skills training. Young people would also be encouraged to enter in to a relationship with their future mortgage provider and establish a savings culture, building up a deposit for a house and building up a second additional pension fund. The funding for this pathway will come from the taxes paid by their parents and grandparents generations. Once the young adults enter the post twenty-one phase of their lives it will be time for them to pay for the generations that will follow them and the generations that have gone before them. This used to be known as the intergenerational compact but from now on will be known as ‘solidarity between the generations’.
This is not too much to ask for or to demand. It is the least that we can do and is essential for the future prosperity and wellbeing of the Country. It requires the political will and the imperative to prioritise for the young. Above all we must establish a Total Quality Culture.