Unemployment and identity

16 Oct

Young people are the same the world over, full of contradictions. Bursting with dreams and desires, endless possibilities, the feeling of being up against the world; a feeling that is as empowering as it is limiting. But I have noticed a perception that is particular to people of my generation, a sort of insecurity that is emerging.

We briefly experienced a time of prosperity and opportunity in the UK (and indeed Europe), of 100% mortgages and loans, entitling citizens to whatever they set their eyes on. We then were a part of what followed: ‘boom’, ‘bust’, ‘crunch’, the collapse of a system. People who had been fortunate enough to get jobs before this were now at risk of losing them, and what was once within our reach – property, presumed progress up the career ladder- no longer could be taken for granted. The result of the UK elections in May this year, ousting Labour and replacing it with a Lib-Dem/Tory coalition, was a reflection of how people felt: distrustful, betrayed, and fundamentally, divided.

When I talk to friends and acquaintances of my age, it is a feeling of instability that I come away with. It seems that there is almost an expectation of having to be prepared for the worst, of not knowing what we are going to lose next. Every day, in every paper, there is a twist on a story that tells us that we are ‘the first generation that can expect a lesser quality of life than that of our parents’. At a house party last July, I had a conversation with a family-man twice my age with two young daughters. He had waited to have them, mainly for financial reasons, but explained,  ‘People your age, you’ll never be able to afford the house before the kids. You’re going to have to do things differently- the kids before the house.’

As things develop and more cuts are announced, it is clear that things are going to change quite drastically. David Cameron, our leader, tells us that he will ‘make it more beneficial for people to be in work than out of it’ and by this he means that the benefit system will be stripped down in such a way that it will be impossible for the jobless to merely survive as they have done. With job cuts occurring on a huge scale, every day, it doesn’t look like it will be a case of more employment being available. However much this alarms me, I know that things as they are have been far from perfect, and that it will take so much for things to change- for the entitled to be stripped of entitlement, and for the disadvantaged to gain both socially and economically. My friend works for a government entity, with many of her clients single parents, and she told me, ‘It is hard convincing a single mum to go out there and work for £80.00 more a week. At the end of the day, she is poor without it, but the sad truth is that even with that added amount, she will remain so. She will still be poor.’ I am not sure what it will take for the balance to tip, in a country such as this, where class is so ingrained in the history, culture, and educational system.

I actually had hopes for the economical downfall. I thought it had the potential to bring people together, of creating a sort of inter-dependency, building on community and kinship rather than on the state. I wonder if this is something that is yet to come out of it, as it becomes more and more clear that the benefit system does not intend to assist people as it has done.

On a bigger scale, I wonder about the roles that people are squeezed into.  As people become more redundant in the work-force, as societal roles become less rigid, what crises of identity will follow?

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