Last Saturday I bumped into Peter, someone I have known for what must be 30 years. We have worked together in the past and we still use the same newsagent to buy our papers.
He was uncharacteristically downbeat about what is happening in society and how the public service he worked in for his entire career is being changed for the worse.
He spoke about ‘Generation R’ by which he meant ‘Generation Right’ – as he described it the young people whose politics have moved to the right. This was not a party political point but one reflecting an intolerance, a view that people in need (of benefits, social housing, etc.) are responsible for their own misfortune and a resentment about them making demands on the public purse. (I must quickly state that there is intolerance on the left as well as the right, and enormous generosity, also, on the left and the right).
This should come as no surprise given the daily feast in the media focusing on ‘benefit scroungers’, ‘skivers’ and ‘hard-working strivers’. It possibly reflects a mind set expressed many years ago by Margaret Thatcher who said that there was no such thing as society.
Recent generations of politicians have countered that view with notions of the Big Society, the Good Society, the Civil Society. But these concepts have not struck a chord with young people who are, at best, unaware of or indifferent to them, and, at worst, ridicule them.
I think the Generation R spoken about by Peter is more ‘Generation Now’, those who are just about doing ok, but who live in the here and now, enjoying what they can get and make little provision for the future. They are the generation where debt is the norm, debt having been made acceptable by the last Labour government through the introduction of student loans and the easy availability of cheap borrowing.
But there is another Generation R – Generation Rent – those people for whom the property-owning democracy of Thatcher has become a cruel hoax, where even the Bank of Mum and Dad is not going to liberate them from housing insecurity, and who face a never-ending cycle of short-term lets, unreasonable charges, deposits being withheld, a year’s rent in advance being demanded, and spiralling rental costs.
But I have some hope for the future, and it comes from a generation of new, young activists who have fire in their bellies for something better. It is well illustrated, but not uniquely, by the campaign group Home Sweet Home who are campaigning for better conditions, particularly for students, in the private rented sector and from letting agencies.
The recent series on this blog on Generation Rent by leading politicians in Brighton and Hove demonstrates the rising level of political concern about Generation Rent by all three main political parties in the city. Renters are likely to influence the outcome of the elections in 87 constituencies at the next general election including the three in Brighton and Hove.
Hopefully we will not see a rise in Generation R but a move, from left and right, to address the housing needs and aspirations of Generation Rent.