Confessions of a kipper

Lucy Knight wonders if her generation's plight might, at least partly, be its own fault

Before I went to university, I read an article about "young adults" who had to endure the humiliation of returning home after they had graduated, because of the huge debts they had racked up while studying. They owed money in the thousands. I was staggered. Their plight made me think only one thing: what losers. There was no way that was going to be me.

That was six years ago. Now here I am, 25 years old, three years out of university and - oh the shame! - living off my parents. I earn money on a sporadic basis, but they pay for pretty much everything I do, eat and sit on, and I am unable to support myself in the way I had envisaged as an idealistic 19-year-old.

My parents are shelling out just over £600 a month for me. That's not to mention what they've already spent on university, holidays, clothes. I have come away from university with the tiniest of debts compared to others I know, but, as a currently unemployed graduate, I am aware that I am eating away at the finances my parents once hoped they would be spending on themselves.

In the past five years there have been many surveys examining why young people are still living at home with their parents. They have recorded a growing number of 20- to 35-year-olds seemingly still unable to cope in the big wide world without help from "the bank of Mum and Dad" - one finds that a third of men in that age group are living with their parents - and the reasons range from debt and poor wages to convenience and laziness.

A 2005 corporate responsibility survey for the Prudential sheds some light on the sorry state of the personal finances of my generation - and there is some cause for alarm. Fifteen per cent of 18- to 24-year-olds thought an ISA was an iPod accessory, and one in ten thought it an energy drink. I know nothing about mortgages, am struggling with tax forms and actually don't know how much my overdraft limit is.

Another survey identified the "kipper" phenomenon (Kids In Parents' Pockets Eroding Retirement Savings). Catchy. It found that four out of ten parents were still helping their "adult" children, at a cost of £20bn a year.

Perhaps more worryingly, a survey by BBC2's Money Programme found that one in seven parents who had an adult child at home had remortgaged or taken out a loan to help their offspring.

I'm in a similar position to most of my friends. Some have plans and are saving up for a flat, while others are still paying off debts from university and questioning their career choices. To a large extent these are all things that are being done at the expense of our parents' ability to enjoy their retirement.

Last year, Reform published a report entitled Class of 2006: a lifebelt for the ipod generation. That's not an Apple iPod, it's an IPOD that stands for "Insecure, Pressured, Overtaxed and Debt-ridden". The report described the "carefree baby-boomer generation" as increasingly living life like teenagers.

Well, isn't that supposed to be what you do once the children have grown up? The report's prediction that my generation will shoulder a 48 per cent tax burden is not something I look forward to. For now, though, we young adults still in the nest could ask ourselves: do I really need that iPod, those skinny jeans, the nights out, the holidays? The answer, for now, must be: No, not really.

This article first appeared in the 05 March 2007 issue of the New Statesman, The great generational robbery

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The New Times: Brexit, globalisation, the crisis in Labour and the future of the left

With essays by David Miliband, Paul Mason, John Harris, Lisa Nandy, Vince Cable and more.

Once again the “new times” are associated with the ascendancy of the right. The financial crash of 2007-2008 – and the Great Recession and sovereign debt crises that were a consequence of it – were meant to have marked the end of an era of runaway “turbocapitalism”. It never came close to happening. The crash was a crisis of capitalism but not the crisis of capitalism. As Lenin observed, there is “no such thing as an absolutely hopeless situation” for capitalism, and so we discovered again. Instead, the greatest burden of the period of fiscal retrenchment that followed the crash was carried by the poorest in society, those most directly affected by austerity, and this in turn has contributed to a deepening distrust of elites and a wider crisis of governance.

Where are we now and in which direction are we heading?

Some of the contributors to this special issue believe that we have reached the end of the “neoliberal” era. I am more sceptical. In any event, the end of neoliberalism, however you define it, will not lead to a social-democratic revival: it looks as if, in many Western countries, we are entering an age in which centre-left parties cannot form ruling majorities, having leaked support to nationalists, populists and more radical alternatives.

Certainly the British Labour Party, riven by a war between its parliamentary representatives and much of its membership, is in a critical condition. At the same time, Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership has inspired a remarkable re-engagement with left-wing politics, even as his party slumps in the polls. His own views may seem frozen in time, but hundreds of thousands of people, many of them young graduates, have responded to his anti-austerity rhetoric, his candour and his shambolic, unspun style.

The EU referendum, in which as much as one-third of Labour supporters voted for Brexit, exposed another chasm in Labour – this time between educated metropolitan liberals and the more socially conservative white working class on whose loyalty the party has long depended. This no longer looks like a viable election-winning coalition, especially after the collapse of Labour in Scotland and the concomitant rise of nationalism in England.

In Marxism Today’s “New Times” issue of October 1988, Stuart Hall wrote: “The left seems not just displaced by Thatcherism, but disabled, flattened, becalmed by the very prospect of change; afraid of rooting itself in ‘the new’ and unable to make the leap of imagination required to engage the future.” Something similar could be said of the left today as it confronts Brexit, the disunities within the United Kingdom, and, in Theresa May, a prime minister who has indicated that she might be prepared to break with the orthodoxies of the past three decades.

The Labour leadership contest between Corbyn and Owen Smith was largely an exercise in nostalgia, both candidates seeking to revive policies that defined an era of mass production and working-class solidarity when Labour was strong. On matters such as immigration, digital disruption, the new gig economy or the power of networks, they had little to say. They proposed a politics of opposition – against austerity, against grammar schools. But what were they for? Neither man seemed capable of embracing the “leading edge of change” or of making the imaginative leap necessary to engage the future.

So is there a politics of the left that will allow us to ride with the currents of these turbulent “new times” and thus shape rather than be flattened by them? Over the next 34 pages 18 writers, offering many perspectives, attempt to answer this and related questions as they analyse the forces shaping a world in which power is shifting to the East, wars rage unchecked in the Middle East, refugees drown en masse in the Mediterranean, technology is outstripping our capacity to understand it, and globalisation begins to fragment.

— Jason Cowley, Editor 

Tom Kibasi on what the left fails to see

Philip Collins on why it's time for Labour to end its crisis

John Harris on why Labour is losing its heartland

Lisa Nandy on how Labour has been halted and hollowed out

David Runciman on networks and the digital revolution

John Gray on why the right, not the left, has grasped the new times

Mariana Mazzucato on why it's time for progressives to rethink capitalism

Robert Ford on why the left must reckon with the anger of those left behind

Ros Wynne-Jones on the people who need a Labour government most

Gary Gerstle on Corbyn, Sanders and the populist surge

Nick Pearce on why the left is haunted by the ghosts of the 1930s

Paul Mason on why the left must be ready to cause a commotion

Neal Lawson on what the new, 21st-century left needs now

Charles Leadbeater explains why we are all existentialists now

John Bew mourns the lost left

Marc Stears on why democracy is a long, hard, slow business

Vince Cable on how a financial crisis empowered the right

David Miliband on why the left needs to move forward, not back

This article first appeared in the 22 September 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The New Times