When I started my blog six years ago, nobody was really talking about how the downturn would affect young people. I remember reading the occasional newspaper column that highlighted the toxic economic environment ahead of us. I remember hearing my friends whisper about insecure jobs, meagre wages, the crippling rent they had to pay.
I even heard about cases where children were flying back to the nest, just when they should have been finding their way in the world, with their parents quietly topping up their savings and income. But by and large, we were ignored by politicians and the media. Even our extended networks of older friends and family did not necessarily grasp how tough things were going to get.
How things change. Now, it seems like I cannot open a newspaper, turn on the radio or TV, even have a meaningful conversation in daily life without the younger generation’s woes cropping up at some point.
But with that increased level of discussion comes a dangerous sense of detachment. We all become hardened to the brutal reality. I wonder whether constantly writing about the subject meant I had become inured to young people’s financial plight, accepting the bleak outlook as though it was a part of 21st century life.
A letter published in the Independent shook me out of my lethargy. A concerned reader pointed out how a young person they knew would be worse off if they accepted a job pegged just above the minimum wage than if they went on the dole. This followed a period where said young person was living in a dilapidated flat on a meagre income, desperate to be independent but unable to find a viable job in an area of high unemployment.
This letter would have been totally heartbreaking were it not for one silver lining when the reader confessed that they continue to subsidise him from their pension.
For the reader was a concerned grandparent, well and truly stepping up to the plate. Faced with a perverse scenario that made it more economical to remain unemployed than enter the workplace, this young man was forced to accept extra money from his grandparents when he should have been completely self-sufficient. If he didn’t accept that lifeline, he would only have £9 a week for his expenses outside of bills and housing costs.
The kindness of his grandparents touched me beyond words. But this is often par for the course with the older generation. Research from pension provider Partnership showed that grandparents have provided more than £2.83bn in financial support. Most have given cash directly (64 per cent of those surveyed for the research) but 14 per cent had also given money to their own children to spend on the youngest members of the family.
Grandparents are often prepared to babysit when necessary, spending an average of £380 whilst looking after youngsters each year according to a study by Gocompare.com. (Only 3 per cent actually insist on charging for these services, clearly thinking their generosity is being outrageously exploited by parents desperate to have a night off!)
Nonetheless, this tangible, day-to-day help is only the tip of the iceberg. Grandparents make hefty contributions to investment vehicles on behalf of young beneficiaries that go largely undocumented – and uncelebrated. In 2012 alone, British grandparents saved £2.4bn, putting away an average of £154 each, according to JP Morgan Asset Management. Furthermore, 14 per cent of students’ grandparents are helping to fund university education – not an insignificant sum today.
Unlike places such as Italy, the UK does not have a culture which venerates that much-needed system of familial support. We collectively place far too much emphasis on what policymakers can do for us.
Whilst we should keep holding those in public office accountable for their actions, it is amazing to see how much we can change the lives of people around us through our own actions, and that small financial contributions can in particular make a huge difference to young people’s future.
Many grandparents have lived through grim economic times. But many have attained a great degree of financial security that puts them in an excellent position to help out the younger generation, both practically and emotionally.
Some of our elders might continue to say that, compared to their years of hard toil and low living standards, the youth of today have never had it so good – that is, if you believe the lame stereotype. Looking at the compassionate and helpful grandparents of today, I think that caricature has had its day.