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16 April 2018updated 24 Jun 2021 12:23pm

Why society’s “millennial” stereotype erases young Northerners

We don’t recognise the entitled, profligate avocado-obsessed characterisation.

By Mason Boycott Owen

Entitled, arrogant and reckless with money – this is the stereotype levelled at young people in the UK today. But this is generally an image of young people in the south, and ignores the reality for thousands of young men and women in the north.

The recent backlash over Labour’s youth-friendly policy of free bus travel for under-25s is a stark example. Many argued that that it would only serve to line the pockets of rich kids in London – apparently forgetting that both buses and young people exist outside of the capital. And they aren’t all using public transport to flit between their favourite juice bars and vegan cafés.

Many in the north rely on buses for university, work and childcare, taking a significant cut to their wages because of travel to and from work, where they are often paid below the living wage. Weekly earnings in Yorkshire are among the lowest in the UK, and have seen the lowest increase – of only 0.8 per cent – in 2017.

These experiences seem not to exist for those who want to take a cheap swipe at the younger generation. The stereotype of the “entitled millennial” largely comes from the experience of middle-class columnists in the south who seemingly resent the entitled kids who they’ve raised.

According to ONS statistics from 2016, women under 25 in the north are more likely to have children than women in the rest of the UK, with the northeast having almost twice the number of under-18 mothers than elsewhere.

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For many, university is not an option, as is evidenced by Higher Education participation levels, which are lowest in the northeast and Yorkshire.

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“Consistent underfunding in the north of England, as in many other working-class communities, has created a dearth of opportunities for many young people,” says NUS National President Shakira Martin.

“The decline in traditional manufacturing industry, such as in the coalfields of Yorkshire, was never quite met with a commitment to either investment in replacing the jobs lost, or to meaningful investment in skills and development,” she adds.

“This means, for many, that moving away from their home area to study at universities seems to be the only escape. Whilst at university, working-class students are more likely to take on part-time work over the recommended 15 hours a week.”

Lack of investment in both young people and the working class is fundamentally about trust. People don’t trust working-class people with public money because we’ll spend it on booze and fags, just as they won’t trust young people because we’ll spend it all on avocados and chai lattes.

Yet devolution may pave the way to moving funds and the ensuing scrutiny away from the south, according to Dan Jarvis, the Labour MP for Barnsley Central and candidate for the South Yorkshire mayoral race. He sees devolution as a way of “placing political decision-making closer to the people” most affected by those decisions.

“I spend half my week in Yorkshire, the other half in London and it is like a tale of two different countries,” he says. “There’s no doubt that we’ve seen a brain-drain amongst talented younger people who far too often see their future not being in the north of England, but in the south.”

Jarvis feels this trend has been fuelled by a societal obsession with university. “On a national level there’s a long-standing snobbery which has placed greater emphasis and importance on an academic route to the world of work – we need to overcome that.”

Inequality in investment throughout the country has created a warped view of social mobility in some areas, where leaving for the south or a major city is seen as progress.

“The problem with our idea of social mobility is it’s about an individual ‘escaping’ a poorer community,” says Faiza Shaheen, director of the think tank Class (Centre for Labour and Social Studies). “It’s a very individualised concept of fairness or society doing well.”

She adds: “What it says is, as long a few people can get out, it doesn’t matter if whole communities are impoverished or remain deprived.”

Young people in the north are not all entitled millennials, but at the same time, we’re not all Kes or Billy Elliot – we’re from a place with its own distinct hardships that are neither shared, nor even acknowledged, by much of the UK.

As a Yorkshireman who has moved to London, people say to me: “Well done, how does it feel to have got out?”

This country needs to invest in working-class youth throughout the country, so that no matter where you’re from, you haven’t “got out” but you’ve simply “made it” – and society no longer erases you with its narrow, stereotyped view of a young person with too much privilege, when too many benefit from no privilege at all.