If you think that previous generations had it so easy then you’re kidding yourself. Photo: Getty
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Despite the best efforts of Cameron’s Britain, being in your twenties is actually great

Yes, we’re facing a housing crisis and mass unemployment, but your twenties can still be the time of your life.

Ah, millennials, they’re such arseholes, aren’t they? What with their Buzzfeeds and their hashtags and their Tinder-swiping and their “special snowflake” senses of entitlement bequeathed to them by the baby boomers. Yep, millennials get a seriously bad rap, mainly because the word “millennials” in itself is the ultimate in media douchebaggery (though “Generation Y” must surely come in at a close second.) And really, considering the fact that we’re universally acknowledged to have been financially shat on by our parents, it doesn’t seem fair that we have to deal with the bad press as well.

Obviously, only a fool would think that all the members of a single generation are slaves to the same motivations, but from reading daily media coverage you’d be forgiven for assuming that we’re all Whatsapping pictures of our newly trendy American Apparel-endorsed bushy vaginas to each other over dinner at SushiSamba. Either that, or we’re being forced into sharing beds with one another in between our various unpaid internships for start-up companies based on the Silicon Roundabout, all the while bemoaning how much easier that pesky parental generation of ours had it with their free educations and the houses they paid £2.50 for in 1973. But guess what, media people? We’re going to buck the trend here. Being in your twenties is actually great.

Though “millennials” are either cast as entitled hipster layabouts too complacent to pay their dues, or an entire “lost” generation robbed of opportunity, the truth is, we’re neither, or maybe a bit of both. True, recession and living under the coalition has been no picnic, and it’s no wonder that we may hold a smidgen of resentment towards the cushy nineties lifestyles of our elders (we fully missed out on the dizzy heights of Britpop and have never been to the Groucho Club – it’s a wonder we can still go on), however, things aren’t as bleak as all that. They may say we have no future, and believe us, when you’ve just been sick outside the Jobcentre and you’re on a comedown and it’s raining and a man is standing inside, demonstrably dry and sadistically tapping his watch, it may well feel that way – but there are plenty of other things to be thankful for.

It’s become rather fashionable to say that your thirties and forties are way better than your twenties. Hell, they probably are, because you might actually have money and no longer be a prisoner to regular panic attacks about who’s going to pay the internet bill and what might happen if you get cut off from Twitter. Yes, we’re facing mass unemployment and a housing crisis resulting in such low rental standards that the rising levels of damp enable you to grow your own mushrooms for sustenance, but your twenties can be the time of your life. If you think that previous generations had it so easy then you’re kidding yourself. When Rhiannon’s mum felt that she was being too picky over finding a place to rent, she made a list of all her twentysomething abodes, and most of them had no central heating and collapsed ceilings. It was like, “Bitch, please: you think you’re the first person to have had a garden full of mattresses?” Holly’s mum squatted in an abandoned house in Cornwall in her teenagehood, and mentions ominously of that time that she will “never discuss” the intricacies of the living situation. In other words, we need to stop thinking we’re the only ones who’ve had it rough.

Being in your twenties in 2014 is great for a number of reasons. You can fuck up and people will look kindly on it because, hey, you’re only 24 and you don’t know any better (one of our friends’ dads says that you’re not a proper adult until you’re 30). If things go wrong, you can move back in with their parents and no one will automatically assume that you’re spending your time harvesting organs in a soundproofed cellar to a soundtrack of the Carpenters (if you don’t have parents, then it’s the foodbank for you, but let’s not kill the optimism while we’re in the flow, yeah?)

You can make terrible relationship and fashion and career choices and come back from them unscathed and in possession of a brilliant amateur stand-up routine - in fact, if you don’t, you’re seen as needlessly vanilla. You can get an interest-free overdraft, at least for a little while before they start sending you endless letters and you have to move house. If you’re renting, you can up sticks at relatively short notice, without having to worry about the terrifying consequences of a mortgage and a partner. Unless you’re in your twenties and you actually have a partner and a mortgage - in which case, all your friends will be jealous of you.

You have the entire internet at your fingertips, and you know how to use it to your best advantage. You’re young enough to harness its powers, but old enough to realise that people really do screenshot their Snapchats and a lot of what goes online might stay forever. You can still think your band is going to make it, and no one will think you’re pathetic. You’re sexually liberated, perhaps even more so than the previous generations – you’re certainly much less likely to be called a slut when sleeping with who you want, when you want, if you’re a woman. Among your age group in the UK, whatever the class bracket, homophobia and racism is fast becoming a huge taboo and is pretty much guaranteed to make everyone hate you. You can marry whomever you want, regardless of their gender. You can move anywhere in the EU and be in your twenties there instead. And when it doesn’t work out, you can come home crying and have a complete life rethink and no one will think you’re a failure; they’ll just think you made the most of your youth.

That’s not to say that everything in your twenties is easy breezy. This government couldn’t give a toss about young people at the moment, and there are huge social and economic problems that need tackling urgently, but it’s time that we reclaim our twenties and acknowledge the positives. So many of the people we know, regardless of their race, class background or economic situation, are doing incredibly exciting things (even if it is in between signing on). Whether it’s becoming young parents, travelling around Argentina, writing a novel, doing up a dilapidated terraced house and turning it into a home, going back to university after raising a daughter, living in Berlin, making your own clothes, doing TEFL in South Korea, becoming a champion pole dancer, working in the best pop-up cocktail bar the hipsters of Hoxton have ever seen, taking your two babies on a crazy-round-the-world trip, setting up your own business or working shitty long hours in an underpaid job and getting spectacularly lashed on the weekends, chances are you’ll be having some fun while doing it. Your twenties are a time where you, for fear of sounding corny, work out who you are. You make mistakes, drink too much, embarrass yourself, and you may be perpetually skint, but you’re also making stuff happen. And in light of the mess the country’s in (altogether now: Cameron’s Britain!) that’s a huge fucking achievement. Let’s carry on doing it.

Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett and Holly Baxter are co-founders and editors of online magazine, The Vagenda.

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Taxation without benefits: how our tax system increases inequality

We often hear the progressive income tax used as a proxy for all tax when it actually accounts for just over a quarter of the tax take.

Tax may not be the burning issue on everyone’s minds over the next month, but the Panama Papers leak has proven that the thorny issues of who pays what, and what level of tax is fair, are ones that are never too far away from the public consciousness.

One of the most important annual publications on tax is the Office for National Statistics’ Effects of Taxes and Benefits on Household Income. Published today, it shows, among other things, the proportion of income paid in tax by people at different points on the income spectrum. This may sound like the natural domain of the data nerd, but it actually tells us some rather interesting facts about our system of taxes and benefits.

First, the good news. Our much maligned welfare system is in fact a beacon of progressiveness, drastically reducing the level of income inequality we see in this country. In fact, overall, taxes and benefits are quite substantially redistributive. Without them, the income of the richest 20 per cent of households would be 14 times higher than the poorest 20 per cent. With them, that gap falls to only four times.

The benefit system as a whole decreases the Gini coefficient, the most frequently used measure of inequality, by 14 percentage points. For anyone who sees taxes and benefits as a key component in reducing economic inequality, or boosting the incomes of the poorest, or, frankly, tackling social injustice, this is rather welcome news.

But now for the bad news.

While our welfare system is undoubtedly progressive, the same cannot be said of our tax system when looked at in isolation. The poorest face a disproportionately heavy tax burden compared to the richest, paying 47 per cent of their income in tax, compared to just 34 per cent for the richest. Last year (2013/14) this difference was 45 per cent – 35 per cent, and the year before (2012/13) the gap was 43 per cent – 35 per cent. So while the proportion of income paid in tax has fallen slightly for the richest, it has increased for the poorest.

While some taxes like income tax are substantially progressive, those such as VAT and Council Tax are not. Even after adjusting for rebates and Council Tax Benefit, the poorest 10 per cent pay 7.1 per cent of their income in council tax while the richest 10 per cent pay only 1.5 per cent.

Should this matter, if our system of benefits continues to narrow the gap between rich and poor? Well, yes, not least because that system is under severe pressure from further cuts. But there are other good reasons to focus on the tax system in isolation from the benefit system.

Polling by Ipsos MORI has shown that the public believes that the tax system by itself reduces inequality, and it is often spoken of by politicians as if that is the case. We often hear the progressive income tax used as a proxy for all tax, for example, when it actually accounts for just over a quarter of the tax take.

Understanding why the tax system does not by itself reduce inequality is therefore important for both thinking about how tax revenues could be better raised, and for understanding the importance of the benefit system in narrowing the gap between the richest and the poorest.

John Hood is Acting Director of the Equality Trust