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Generation Y: A jilted generation, or just a bunch of whingers?

19 June 2014

Generation Y – are they really a jilted generation, or do they have absolutely no reason to be complaining about their lot? This was the question posed at Tuesday night’s Spectator debate, with the motion: ‘Stop whining young people, you’ve never had it so good’, and chaired by Toby Young. It all kicked off with an introduction from Alan Warner, the investment director at Duncan Lawrie, who expressed his gratitude to Tony Blair for putting Islington – where Warner owned his first London home – on the map. It’s not just this generation who feels hard done by when it comes to property, he said. Every generation feels like it has missed out on that front.

First on the podium was Jeremy Warner of The Telegraph, speaking for the motion, who joked that Alan Warner had already made his argument for him. The opposition, consisting of Ed Howker, Katie Morley and David Lammy, certainly didn’t look deprived – quite the opposite. James Delingpole, on the other hand (who was speaking for the motion), despite being a fine figure of a man, looked ‘somewhat down at heel’, said Warner. But back to the serious business. It’s true that the young have been badly hit by the recession, he said, but these are perennial features of the economy. Generation Y might be affected by an ageing society, and the demographics of the country. But looked at as a whole, this is the probably most privileged generation ever. If they think there’s a problem, they ought to get out and do something about it.

Next up, speaking against the motion, was Katie Morley, a writer at Investors Chronicle. Her argument centred around the fact that education, employment, housing and pensions are the four pillars of a secure financial community, but that these are all crumbling. Being financially secure is now a luxury that only exceptional high earners, or those with rich parents, can expect. Something, she said, has gone seriously wrong.

James Delingpole, however, disagreed. Everything is going right for Generation Y, not wrong. When he was young, he wasted an enormous amount of time thinking about  – and trying to get – sex. These days, all one needs is an app, and your sexual urges can be catered for. If you want drugs, all you have to do is log on to the Silk Road. There might not be enough Queen Anne rectories around for everyone, that’s true. But technology has made Generation Y’s lives pretty fantastic in relation to those of the previous generation. Granted, there are problems for them, such as the housing market, and the government’s ‘crap’ QE policy. But the difference is that young people now have ‘the power to deal with all this shit’. So get out there and sort things out, was his message.

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That, said David Lammy, was fun. But he wasn’t convinced that young people are whinging about their lot. On the contrary, the young people that he met in his constituency were remarkable accepting of their lot, and willing to just get on with things. The ones who complained the most were the baby boomers, who were caused mayhem in 1968, and Generation X, who rioted in their droves. Even the Croydon riots in 2011 included many adults, rather than Generation Y members.

‘I am part of the fortunate generation that includes those pantheon names Cameron, Miliband and Clegg’, he said, who have had free education, little unemployment, and good pension pots. For Generation Y, the prospect is very different. The buzzword here ought to be ‘security’, and this is exactly what that Generation Y don’t have. There is very little promise of a ‘great’ in Great Britain for the next generation. But they aren’t whinging. They are a make do and mend generation, who are quietly getting on with their lives.

Paul Flatters was next to speak for the motion, and he hadn’t been convinced by Katie Morley’s argument. Her speech had reminded him of the Monty Python sketch ‘What have the Romans ever done for us?’. By the time they are in their 50s, Generation Y will almost certainly be richer than the current one, and crime levels as a whole are ridiculously low. Technology, as well, has opened up so many opportunities for young people. But as Lammy had said earlier, to claim that they whinge is far from true. It’s the older people who are whinging on their behalf, claimed Flatters.

The final speaker against the motion was Ed Howker, who said that Jeremy Warner’s description of him as a ‘tanned, somewhat handsome man’ was incorrect (though flattering) – and nor was most of what the other side had to say. It must be hard for parents to see their children achieving multiple degrees, and then return home to them unable to find a job or afford their own home. For too long, the government has ignored the needs of young people, and it’s time to fix that. Young people are being kicked when they’re down, and all the figures look very bad for them right now. Problems including housing, a skills shortage, and unemployment are ones that are going to continue to affect the next generation unless we address them now, said Howker. Young people ought to continue – or at least begin – whinging!

At the beginning of the debate, 29 people had voted for the motion, 44 against, and 24 were undecided. But after hearing the speeches, this had changed to 41 for, 55 against, and 10 undecided. More people might have been swung in favour of the motion, but the majority were still of the opinion that Generation Whine are, in fact, right to be whining.


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  • Clive Mather

    Wot a load of unadulterated crap – not a particular aspect of the discussion, but the whole damned lot. First of all, there is no such thing as ‘Generation Y’ (or X or Z or A or whatever). There is a continuous spectrum of ages in British (and all other) societies from newborns to supercentenarians. The identification of a particular ‘generation’ is purely journalistic bullshit. It’s as though journalists (and other pseuds) think that human society has quantum leaps between people of different ages. Families have well-defined generations, society as a whole does not.
    Then of course, having started from a false premiss, we move on to false antitheses – ‘are Generation Y bone-idle wingers or are they living in the lap of luxury?’ Since we are presumably talking about millions of people from a range of family types, incomes, educational levels, ethnic origins, etc. this is a ridiculous question to pose, let alone answer.
    Unfortunately, this absurd debate is typical not only of silly stories in the media but also of a lot of political discussion in Parliament and elsewhere – discussion that leads to bad government.
    We really need to improve education. This of course is a familiar refrain but is usually used in reference to those from poor families who leave school barely literate. People like these, though unfortunate and collectively a problem due to the burden on the welfare system, do not have much scope individually to inflict harm on society as a whole. The real problem is those who are thought to be of high intellect but really lack the substance. A British degree in Arts or Humanities is shorter and less demanding in terms of mathematical and logical skills than almost any degree in the developed world, but is still held in high regard by ‘opinion formers’, politicians and the HR departments of companies. The consequence is unendingly bad management and bad governance and a poor standard of public debate.

  • Lucy Sky Diamonds

    If they are then the writer of this article must be one of them…

    Self fulfilling prophecy……?

  • Smithersjones2013

    [Yawn] Fine lets bring back 25% inflation and 15% interest rates. Lets see how Generation “Why(ner)?” gets on then?

    Then lets remove the bathrooms (back to outside loos) if you weren’t reasonably well off, freezers, microwaves, tumble-dryers, dishwashers, computers, x-boxes & the internet, dvd & tv recording equipment, satellite TV, portable music and CD technology, mobile phones and everything else they spend their money on and see if they think they are better off then?

    And if they are still not convinced do away with the minimum wage and make it extortionatly expensive to go abroad on holiday once let alone multiple times every year. Do away with the 80% of the entertainment venues, 24 hour drinking, cheap cocktail hours, 24 hour TV, multi-screen cinemas, bowling alleys & nightclubs and off course forget cheap clothes because globalisation hasn’t happened and the Asia isn’t making cloths for a pittance

    That was what it was like when the last of the Boomers

    Still they’ll still have Top of the Pops on a Thursday night and Match of the Day on Saturday evening and once a year they can look forward to Butlin’s or Pontin’s..And of course a pint of Heineken was about 20p and you could afford 20 cigarettes for easily less than a quid so it wasn’t all bad. For a bit of variety you could of course go and watch the Speedway or bet on the dogs….

    Its not easy for young people today but it never was and prior generations hasven’t exactly made their lives harder….

    • Matthew Stevens

      All the positives that you’ve just mentioned are first and foremost, irrelevant frivolities in terms of actual well-being and don’t compare whatsoever to the opportunity to own a house (which then quadruples in price, comfortably sorting out your retirement out of sheer good fortune), have a secure job, cheap education, absence of debt and be confident of having the financial security to be able to raise a family.

      Sod the fact that we get to play Angry Birds on the tube, all of the above are completely up in the air for swathes of my generation.

      The points I raise here are hardly original, but they never once get addressed by the boomer brigade. All we hear is a smug, satisfied chortle and a roll of the eyes as if we should lower our hopes and expectations and be happy with the extra channels on the TV which are apparently supposed to make up for the absence of all I’ve just mentioned.

      Oh and incidentally, these things aren’t affordable for everyone at all. The idea that our entire generation can liberally spend money on luxuries even amounting to three holidays in a year is nonsense for the vast majority of us in our early twenties.

      Sounds a lot like nouveau-riche parents who’ve been able to bestow their wealth on their children whilst never being exposed to the modern working class, which (whilst it might seem to surprise some) does still exist.

      • Fergus Pickering

        How do you get exposed to the working class. Most of the people in my street re working class. I chat to them in the street, as one does. Is that being exposed to them. I also talk about cricket to the newsagent who is a Sikh. Is that being exposed to the working class? .

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