In her regular column, Nottingham East MP Nadia Whittome talks about generational inequality...
Happy birthday to LeftLion, and all my fellow Virgos!
What were you up to at twenty (or where do you see yourself, in case you’ve not yet hit that age)? I was working at the Lark Hill retirement village in Clifton, hanging out with friends in Sneinton Market and then dancing the night away at the Bodega. Little did I know that just three years later, I’d be representing my city as the UK’s youngest MP.
As of July, I’m no longer the youngest. The unofficial title of the “Baby of the House” now belongs to Labour’s Keir Mather who has won the Selby and Ainsty by-election at the age of 25. He immediately faced some of the same accusations previously levelled at me and other young MPs such as the SNP’s Mhairi Black: of lacking life experience.
My response is always the same: that our generation has plenty of experiences that most MPs never had to face. We grew up under austerity, are bearing the brunt of the housing crisis, many of us paid nine grand a year in tuition fees and entered the job market in an era of stagnating wages and increased insecurity. We have plenty of MPs who were born into huge generational wealth and never had to pay rent, worry about student debt or try to make ends meet on a zero-hours contract - and yet we rarely hear anyone ask whether this makes them less relatable to their constituents.
Young people are underrepresented in politics - just three percent of those elected to Parliament in 2019 were under thirty. Unfortunately, they’re also significantly less likely to vote than their parents and grandparents. This turns into a vicious circle: politicians become less motivated to appeal to young people, who in turn conclude that no one speaks for them, and stay at home on polling day.
Meanwhile, younger generations continue to face challenges that the government is failing - or not even trying - to address. Millennials are the first generation since the nineteenth century to be worse off than the generation before them, and currently things aren’t looking rosy for Gen Z either.
Housing is one of every person’s most basic needs - but for young people, having a place to call home is becoming more and more difficult. Over the past fifty years, house prices have increased 65 times, far outpacing wages and leaving many of my peers with little hope of ever owning their own place. Rents are spiralling out of control as well, with millions of people now transferring half of their monthly paycheck straight to their landlord’s account. What’s more, there are still no laws protecting tenants from a sudden massive rent hike, or a no-fault eviction. Many young people are spending years or decades in precarious flatshares, or living with their parents for much longer than they would like to. As a result, some delay starting their own families, or are forced to move out of their cities and leave their communities behind in search of cheaper housing elsewhere.
Education is another area where my generation rightly feels betrayed. The UK has the highest tuition fees in Europe - thanks to MPs who went to university for free, but then legislated to burden younger generations with decades’ worth of debt just for wanting to learn. Meanwhile, schools and further adult education are suffering from years of underfunding, depriving people of opportunities they deserve.
The UK has the highest tuition fees in Europe - thanks to MPs who went to university for free, but then legislated to burden younger generations with decades’ worth of debt just for wanting to learn
Last but certainly not least, my generation is more aware than any before us about the existential threat of the climate crisis. Climate chaos is already here, causing deadly disasters around the world and pushing up food prices in our supermarkets. For decades, climate activists talked about preserving the planet for future generations, and we were one of the generations they meant. Today’s teens and twenty-somethings will be middle-aged in 2050, and the climate emergency will impact nearly every aspect of our lives - no wonder six in ten people aged eighteen to 25 are very worried about it. Meanwhile, the government is ignoring the crisis and announcing new oil and gas licences like there’s no tomorrow.
None of this is to say that older people are immune to the devastating impacts of austerity or unaffected by global warming, far from it. To advocate for young people is not to disregard the problems affecting everyone else. Quite the opposite: when we stand up for those at the sharp end - not just young people, but also women, disabled people or people of colour, for example - we improve the lot of other groups as well. “Boomers” are not the enemy - rampant economic inequality and reckless government policies are.
There is another reason why it’s so important for me to voice the concerns of young people in Parliament. Nottingham is among the UK’s youngest cities, and more than half of my constituents in Nottingham East are under thirty. Gen Z and millennials are behind many of the fantastic businesses and projects celebrated in this magazine, bringing their energy, enthusiasm and fresh ideas to our buzzing city. They deserve every opportunity to realise their dreams - and politicians who will stand up for them.
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