Debt is central to the lives of Generation Y, while their parents had fun for free. Photo: Flickr/Eden, Janine and Jim
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Shouldering the cost of the Baby Boomer legacy is destroying my generation's prospects

It's time for young people to fight inter-generational injustice – and it may be that top-down bureaucracy is one way to do it.

It’s always nice, when you suspect that you may be being screwed, to have it confirmed officially by those in power. It just helps firm things up a bit, mentally.

Being a part of Generation Y (also known in newspeak as the “fuck it”, or “lost” generation, which consists of “millennials”, or people born roughly between the early Eighties and the early 2000s) naturally means facing a parade of regular headlines to that effect, but confirmation has now been received.

The Office for Budget Responsibility’s FSR report has offered said confirmation by informing us that UK debt is snowballing with terrifying momentum and that it is the young who will be hit hardest.

This is, essentially, because baby boomers keep making fiscal promises to themselves which their children will be required to shoulder. The gap between the UK’s assets and liabilities grew, in the last five years as of March 2014, to £1,852bn. If you include unfunded state pension liabilities, you can add another £4,000bn to that.

The report confirms one released by the Centre for Policy Studies earlier this month entitled “Who Will Care For Generation Y?”, a question I ask frequently while kneeling on the floor and gesticulating at the empty sky above. And yet, still no one answers.

If you’re a member of my generation and you’re reading this, you don’t need me to tell you that we have enough on our plates without spiralling debt as well. We’re already facing a housing crisis that feels like a waking nightmare, with rents and house prices rising well past the point of absurdity (the average rent in London hit £1,500 a month for the first time just two days ago).

Then there’s student debt, which we all try not to think about because opening the letter to discover that you’ve only made enough money to cover the interest and that the sum of monies owed remains the same is a crushing experience like no other (stop opening the letters, is my advice).

And that’s before we even get to talking about the weird, fragmented careers that so many of us are saddled with, comprising zero-hours contracts, low-paid, unreliable work and jobs tutoring the children of Russian oligarchs.

The Centre for Policy Studies says we’ll be the first generation to be worse off than our parents, but still, we’re expected to foot the bill. They call it “inter-generational injustice”, but you don’t need me to tell you that what it actually represents is a total shitshow.

So what do we do about it? The CPS is today recommending that an Office For Inter-Generational Responsibility be established. At the moment, prospective legislation must be accompanied by an impact assessment analysing its costs and benefits, but assessments that look at the impact of legislation on young people, who are future taxpayers, do not exist – and they should, for obvious reasons.

The Office For Inter-Generational responsibility would co-ordinate these impact assessments. It all sounds highly bureaucratic but what it ultimately means is that a body will exist that has a fiduciary duty towards future taxpayers as well as current taxpayers. What it all comes down to is the need for those in power to take some time to consider the impact of their decisions on future generations; something we can all agree that previous governments have not been doing enough.

Politicians are known for pursuing short-term goals, a tendency that is not helped by pressure from self-interested lobbyists, nor the fact that young people are less likely to vote or engage with the political system.

The CPS report has several ideas for how we go about reducing the financial burden on the young, including reducing tax reliefs, but the one I’m perhaps least convinced would work is that we “embrace digital democracy” by starting an e-petition asking for our own designated minister. Certainly a Minister for Younger People is a very good idea, but could we actually garner a million signatures?

Perhaps I’m jaded because the one I signed to legalise space cakes has yet to come to fruition, but I just can’t see a million people signing up for something so BBI (Boring But Important). And yet, more than that tuned in for the season six premiere of Made in Chelsea. It’s a bleak state of affairs.

But it’s worth a try. We’re obviously in need of a vocal, galvanised political movement of young people, one that isn’t made up of university debating society tosspots, but real people. Perhaps Russell Brand could take it on – young people love him, apparently (though clearly not enough to back Ed Miliband). I’d like to see Owen Jones write a book about inter-generational injustice – he’s done Chavs, and the Establishment, could we have one on Boomers next?

Or perhaps I could transform my personal anger towards the “Escape to the Sun” generation into some kind of furious national movement? I like my parents but the rest of them, with their free university educations, buy-to-lets, sexual liberation, top quality drugs and Cash in the Attic have caused me no end of trouble. Thanks, guys. Really. Much appreciated.

Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett is a writer for the New Statesman and the Guardian. She co-founded The Vagenda blog and is co-author of The Vagenda: A Zero Tolerance Guide to the Media.

Photo: Getty
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In focusing on the famous few, we risk doing a disservice to all victims of child sexual abuse

There is a danger that we make it harder, not easier, for victims to come forward in future. 

Back in the 1970s when relations between journalists and police were somewhat different to today a simple ritual would be carried out around the country at various times throughout the week.

Reporters, eager for information for their regional newspaper, would take a trip to the local station and there would be met by a desk sergeant who would helpfully skim through details in the crime Incident Book.

Among the entries about petty thefts, burglaries and road accidents there would occasionally be a reference to an allegation of incest. And at this point the sergeant and journalist might well screw-up their faces, shake their heads and swiftly move on to the next log. The subject was basically taboo, seen as something ‘a bit mucky,’ not what was wanted in a family newspaper.

And that’s really the way things stayed until 1986 when ChildLine was set up by Dame Esther Rantzen in the wake of a BBC programme about child abuse. For the first time children felt able to speak out about being sexually assaulted by the very adults whose role in life was to protect them.

And for the first time the picture became clear about what incest really meant in many cases. It wasn’t simply a low level crime to be swept under the carpet in case it scratched people’s sensitivities. It frequently involved children being abused by members of their close family, repeatedly, over many years.

Slowly but surely as the years rolled on the NSPCC continued to press the message about the prevalence of child sexual abuse, while encouraging victims to come forward. During this time the corrosive effects of this most insidious crime have been painfully detailed by many of those whose lives have been derailed by it. And of course the details of the hundreds of opportunistic sexual assaults committed by Jimmy Savile have been indelibly branded onto the nation’s consciousness.

It’s been a long road - particularly for those who were raped or otherwise abused as children and are now well into their later years - to bring society around to accepting that this is not to be treated as a dark secret that we really don’t want to expose to daylight. Many of those who called our helpline during the early days of the Savile investigation had never told anyone about the traumatic events of their childhoods despite the fact they had reached retirement age.

So, having buried the taboo, we seem to be in danger of giving it the kiss of life with the way some cases of alleged abuse are now being perceived.

It’s quite right that all claims of sexual assault should be investigated, tested and, where there is a case, pursued through the judicial system. No one is above the law, whether a ‘celebrity’ or a lord.

But we seem to have lost a sense of perspective when it comes to these crimes with vast resources being allocated to a handful of cases while many thousands of reported incidents are virtually on hold.

The police should never have to apologise for investigating crimes and following leads. However, if allegations are false or cannot be substantiated they should say so. This would be a strength not a weakness.

It is, of course, difficult that in many of the high-profile cases of recent times the identities of those under investigation have not been officially released by the police but have come to light through other means. Yet we have to deal with the world as it is not as we wish it would be and once names are common knowledge the results of the investigations centring on them should be made public.

When it emerges that someone in the public eye is being investigated for non-recent child abuse it obviously stirs the interest of the media whose appetite can be insatiable. This puts pressure on the police who don’t want to repeat the mistakes of the past by allowing offenders to slip through their hands.  And so there is a danger, as has been seen in recent cases, that officers lack confidence in declaring there is a lack of evidence or the allegations are not true. 

The disproportionate weight of media attention given to say, Sir Edward Heath, as opposed to the Bradford grooming gang sentenced this week, shows there is a danger the pendulum is swinging too far the other way. This threatens the painstaking work invested in ensuring the public and our institutions recognise child abuse as a very real danger. 

Whilst high profile cases have helped the cause there is now a real risk that the all-encompassing focus on them does both victims of abuse and those advocating on their behalf a fundamental disservice.

As the public watches high -profile cases collapsing amidst a media fanfare genuine convictions made across the country week in week out go virtually unannounced. If this trend continues they may start to believe that child sexual abuse isn’t the prolific problem we know it to be.

So, while detectives peer into the mists of time, searching for long lost clues, we have to face the unpalatable possibility that offences being committed today will in turn only be investigated fully in years or decades' time because there is not the manpower to deal with them right now.

So, now the Goddard Inquiry is in full swing, taking evidence about allegations of child sex crimes involving ‘well known people’ as well as institutional abuse, how do we ensure we don’t fail today’s victims?

If they start to think their stories are going to be diminished by the continuing furore over how some senior public figures have been treated by the police they will stay silent. Therefore we have to continue to encourage them to come forward, to give them the confidence of knowing they will be listened to.

If we don’t we will find ourselves back in those incestuous days where people conspired to say and do nothing to prevent child abuse.

Peter Wanless is Chief Executive of the NSPCC.