D for Debt is the letter that defines my Generation, writes Rising East social media editor Thomas Hedley.
This article is written in response to Generation A: the young Londoners helping to shape the world one GIF at a time.
Robert Colvile, author of The Great Acceleration: How the World is Getting Faster, Faster, took to the London Evening Standard to project our generation through beams of bouquets and rainbows: we’re Generation A, apparently; when ‘A’ is for ‘acceleration, achievement and attitude’. We move with speed, we’re great with technology and we’re positively fantastic at creating GIFs.
You forgot about the other aspect of this generation – Generation D. D for debt, depression and disengagement from the way the world moves around us. But hey, Robert, at least my generation taught you all about memes, right?
Unfortunately, Bob (can I call you that?), you missed the one thing that all the people you met in the bright, smart, young media industry would have told you if you hadn’t been too scared to ask: that when they walked into the offices of BuzzFeed or whatever it was, with a handful of witty quips and branded hooded tops, each and every one of them had conquered almost insurmountable odds just to be there.
It ain’t how it used to be sold to us. We were promised opportunity on the other side: a treasure trove of prospects after making it through three or more years of debt-dredged academia. Instead, we’ve been conned by a contrived university system created by the Conservative Party to suck the very existence from us.
I’m in my final year of university. I study journalism, I’m 24 and I’m really, really scared. I can’t apply for a job without hundreds of other applicants waiting eagerly to stab me in the back for a shot at a career in the mailroom of the media industry. I quip to my girlfriend about my inevitable shelf-stacking career in Tesco, Asda or whatever retail department I will land my ‘overqualified’ feet in. But really I’m not laughing.
At this point you might be shouting ‘you need to work hard, get experience, get a foot in the door!’. I have, Robert. I’ve done my time, working on my craft, offering my skills for free, at several publications covering several topics. But I’ve yet to receive so much as a reply from anyone who would pay me to do any of this long term – for any time longer than a one-off gig. Is it because I’m asking them to pay me with real money?
I’ve witnessed the media industry abuse the ‘gift’ of aspiring creatives (sounds like ‘take’ to me). We’re told of the ‘high chance’ of employment (at the end of your 24 month internship), only to be let go when it becomes ‘unethical to keep you on’. At which point, they’ll move on to the next court jester. I know of publications that couldn’t possibly run without interns as workhorses (welcome to the workhouse in the trendy warehouse), but we’ll keep coming back, because that’s what you told us: experience equals jobs.
We’re forced to jump through so many hoops just to taste the doormat of a desirable position. I made that CV ‘creative’, because we’re told it’ll stand out from the crowd. Print it on blue paper, orientate it in landscape, ruffle up the edges. Fuck, I’ll even type it in comic sans; will that get your almighty attention?
‘Work for free’, ‘don’t work for free’. Every guest speaker has a different opinion. What they have in common is they are doing fine, because the university’s guest speakers all have jobs, and are getting paid (not much) to speak. ‘Don’t stop trying, nag them’. That’s the nail, the one that penetrates you the hardest after sending off the one hundredth email proposing your great article on the uptick in the video gaming black market. And it really is interesting, believe me (PLEASE).
The truth is that I will be leaving university with a dishonestly happy photograph of me in my graduation gown, little to no prospect of a real job, and a significant hole in my pocket. As our money saving expert Martin Lewis said: ‘for 23 years we educated our youth into debt when they go to university, but never about debt’.
Hi, Dave (can I call you that?), try living in London on the maintenance loan you gave us. Yeah, it’s possible, if you can live with malnutrition and staring at a blank wall for three years. We’re the creatives, remember? We are supposed to go out, ‘network’, read expensive books and wear branded hoodies. We spend an impossible amount on rent just to live somewhere within a 30 minute radius of central London, i.e we are paying off someone else’s equally ludicrous mortgage.
Buy to rent, bloody fantastic scheme. Now we’re another grand down after dipping into the overdraft just to get from one day to the next, until we find that well has run dry, too. Remember the truly professional experience you told us to go out and get? Well, we can’t now. We’re neck deep in sizing up feet in shoe shops, just so we can buy that four-cheese pizza we’ve been craving.
And even when (when) we get that dream job, we have the Sisyphean task of paying back our beloved government nine percent of anything we earn over £21,000, for the rest of our working lives.
I couldn’t tell you the number of meticulous plans I’ve heard from recent graduates trying to get away from a life of debt-reduced income. Some of my peers are moving away for 10 years to exotic destinations, because they are ‘pretty sure’ that wipes the debt. Meanwhile, some aren’t all that bothered, because the starting wage in journalism is a measly £15,000.
We’re staring down the barrel of our own gun, the explosive firearm that some relatively lucky millennials swerved away from when the sudden imposition of extortionate fees put them off university altogether. The BBC reported a 17% fall in university applicants in 2014, and sometimes I feel envious that I didn’t follow the same path. But should I have to feel like this? Who does Generation X think they are, to deny us feasible access to higher education?
My Generation is D for depressed, and possibly repressed, also. Shrinking into our own shells in order to retain shreds of dignity. Major depression is the number one psychological disorder in the Western world, one that is growing rapidly among teenagers. But some commentators would still have it that we have nothing to be depressed about. We’re ‘born multitaskers’, capable of watching Netflix, talking on our phones, texting and messaging all at the same time. We have absolutely nothing to worry about, other than what horribly good CSI drama we’ll watch tonight. Yeah, right.
The truth is that 10 times more people suffer from depression than those in 1945. On average the onset of depression occurs between the ages of 25 and 29. Childtrends.org suspect the pressures of new financial burdens and career demands cause a detrimental impact on our mental health. The journey we took to avoid the plagues of squalor and the trajectory that supposedly throws an uppercut to the poverty margin is the very same journey that pulls us down with sleepless nights and inferior feelings. We have no hope of owning a place to call home before the age of 30 (and the latest research says if you don’t own it by your late 30s you are never going to), nor a family, nor the kind of job we were told we had a right to look forward to.
The Telegraph reported that a third of working graduates took positions as cleaners, office juniors and road sweepers in the six months after leaving university, and seven percent were assumed to be unemployed.
Here’s TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady commenting on what’s in store for my side of your Generation A: ‘For many university leavers, the prospect of finding a job that matches their talents is gloomy.
‘Young people are simply not getting the opportunities they deserve… The government’s economic plan is failing to solve this career gridlock, but action is urgently needed. Bemoaning the lack of decent graduate jobs is becoming an annual event.’
So, Bob, calling out to the achievers, the ones with attitude and the appetite for taking on the world, does not help the situation of the majority.
Great, you’re working at a job we’d give our right arm for, and most likely our left. Hell, take our legs too. We’re trying our utmost, but the hardest part is accepting that not everything will go as we planned it. We might be brilliant at Tweeting and expressing our identities, but what’s left when all we have to say for ourselves is said in less than 140 characters?
You mentioned the statistics; we’re generally (73.4%) content with our lives. Depends what’s meant by ‘content’. True, we’re not cowering in tinny bomb shelters like it’s 1941, or left uprooted and sooty under the rein of Maggie Thatcher, and we do have the clever gadgets and ‘easy’ lives our parents could only have dreamed of.
Of course we are happy, in a very limited sense of the word. We’re happy that we are the ones flicking on the TV to watch the devastation take place elsewhere in the world, and not the other way round. The peculiar situation of Generation D is altogether a first world problem. It’s hard to think of our well-catered-for position as anything else but lucky in that respect.
But please, Mr. Colvile (I’m getting serious now), while you’re working above and around the twenty somethings at BuzzFeed HQ – the bright-eyed creatives who caught their breaks and garnered your attention – consider the ones who haven’t yet, or never will. Spare a thought for the ‘achievements’ of the 60,000 odd graduates huffing behind a till or sweeping away the evidence of Generations A’s Friday night in Shoreditch, wondering why everyone was so indifferent towards them.