4 Feb 2011

Government ‘betraying young people’ – Ed Miliband

The Labour Leader, Ed Miliband, says young people are the victims of the Coalition Government’s deficit-cutting plan. Faisal Islam investigates.

In a speech in Gateshead, the Labour Leader accused ministers of betraying a generation by pursuing policies that would result in them being worse off than their parents.

He said: “We may not have given it a name in the way that Americans talk about the ‘American dream’, but it is there nevertheless.

“It is defined by the promise that each generation will pass on to the next a life of greater opportunity, prosperity and happiness.

“But for the first time in generations there is now a real and legitimate fear that the British promise will be broken and the next generation will have fewer opportunities and find it harder to get on than the last.”

Labour Leader Ed Miliband

Mr Miliband was referring to plans to increase university tuition fees and scrap the educational maintenance allowance and apprenticeship guarantee for 17 and 18-year-olds.

He said he was determined to lead a “Britain which passes on better chances, rather than worse ones, to our children”.

‘Moral dimension’

The Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, disputed these claims, saying: “In my view, there is also a moral dimension to this as well. I have never understood those who say that it is somehow progressive to delay tackling the deficit.

“It’s like shuffling off our responsibility to pay off our debts, this generation’s debts, to the next. This strikes me as little short of inter-generational theft … the equivalent of loading up your credit card as a parent with debt and then expecting your children to pay it off for you.”

Labour had “passed on to Britain’s young people a monumental economic crisis and a deadweight of debt hung around their necks.”

Father says cuts 'targeted at young people'

Andy Loynes is 45 and lives in Bury in Greater Manchester with his partner Claire and two teenage sons.

Sixth-former Bobby, who is 16 and studying four A-Levels at his comprehensive school, hopes to take up a degree in chemical engineering at university.

He faces tuition fees of up to £9,000 a year, on top of his living costs, and Mr Loynes is convinced that the Government's cuts will hit young people hardest.

"I personally have always been cautious about debt, and I've passed that on to my children," he told Channel 4 News.

"If you're talking about debts of £40,000, that is a huge disincentive. For people who don't come from affluent backgrounds, that is going to be a barrier.

"I see the cuts as targeted at young people."

Mr Loynes lives in a three-bedroom terraced house and has paid off his mortgage.

He worries about his sons' ability to buy a home, comparing the life he has enjoyed - no tuition fees, a student grant and low youth unemployment - with what awaits Bobby and 15-year-old Joe.

"It is going to be very hard for them to buy a house and pay off their mortgage. Already the statistics are showing that people are buying houses later.

"Young people are finding it difficult to raise a deposit. The ability to buy a home is much reduced from our generation.

"We've been model citizens. We haven't racked up huge debts and now our children are being expected to pay. They couldn't be more innocent , but they're expected to bear the brunt of it. It's disgraceful this generation is being singled out.

"Education used to be seen as an investment, about equipping people with knowledge and skills that would benefit society."

While Mr Loynes accepts Ed Miliband's analysis, he believes that by introducing university fees in the first place and setting up the Browne Review of higher education funding, Labour must accept some responsibility for the situation.

"When you introduce fees, you know they are going to rise. The Browne Report was initiated by Labour."

But Mr Miliband’s criticisms were echoed by the Labour peer Lord Sugar, star of BBC1’s The Apprentice, who said apprenticeships had been “rescued from near-oblivion” by the previous government.

“With youth unemployment at a record high, we should be doing everything we can to help young people access and succeed in education and training, not reducing support and lowering ambitions.

“This Tory-led Government is going too far, too fast, with this reckless change. The Conservatives should stop kicking ladders away for the next generation.”

Mr Miliband used his speech to explain how he thought the “British promise” had helped his family.

His parents, Ralph and Marion, arrived here as refugees after fleeing the Nazis and were able to build “a happy and secure life” in Britain.

“I know from my own family’s story what the promise of Britain can mean,” said Mr Miliband.

“It is a long way from a family of refugees to their son being leader of the Labour Party. I thank my parents for it but I am also grateful for what this country made possible.

“I am in politics because I know that promise was there for me and my family and I want it to be there for future generations.”