10 Feb 2014

Back home and priced out: meet the lost generation

Their parents were the baby boomers. But young people today are shut out of the housing and jobs markets – and shouldering the burden of Britain’s debt. Channel 4 News meets the lost generation.

Video: Alex Regan, 23, on life as an “incredibly over-qualified barista”

Some call it the lost generation – the offspring of the baby boomers unable to enjoy the money, jobs and pensions parents did.

On Monday, a new poll by the think tank Demos reveals three times as many young people than pensioners have seen their debts increase over the past five years.

It’s another depressing, if perhaps unsurprising, revelation. Most 18 to 34-year-olds know they’ve got it bad and some of their parents are beginning to feel almost guilty for the relative wealth they experienced.

Families are also getting used to a new reality: the children that left home filled with hope, are back in their childhood bedrooms. They feel grateful, but stuck and their parents, who looked forward to retirement, are adjusting to another addition at the dinner table.

Some of the young people I spoke to as part of a special Channel 4 News series said they wouldn’t go to university if they had their time again. After being sold the virtues of a degree, some of them are finding it harder to get work than their friends who stayed at home.

Demos polls young people on debt*
– Debts have increased over past five years, for 55 per cent of 18 to 24-year-olds and 48 per cent of 25 to 34-year-olds,
– This compares to 13 per cent of over-65s,
– One in five 18 to 24-year-olds, and one in four 25 to 34-year-olds, are in debts of over £10,000,
– The majority of young people have over £2,000 of debt,
– 35 per cent got into debt due to “unexpected expenses”,
– 28 per cent said they were in debt because they couldn’t “afford the basics”
*based on poll of 1,7775 people

I asked everyone if they thought they had been unrealistic about their chances. Many said they thought teachers were the unrealistic ones, obsessed with getting as many of them to university as they could.

Some of the people I spoke to studied film or creative writing, yet still believed they’d get a job related to their degree. Instead, they’re working in coffee shops or pubs, as temporary staff.

I also witnessed plenty of impairing optimal ingenuity. One graduate got so sick of unpaid internships, he started his own record label. But he’s still struggling to make ends meet: his team of three still earn only around £2,000 between them.

There are plenty of examples of young people using their initiative and optimism to try and reverse their fortunes. The golden area of stability and security belongs may be over.

But much of this generation are determined not to be defined by debt.

Tune in to Channel 4 News on Monday night, from 7pm, to see Cordelia Lynch’s special report