Mortgages, marriages and children: If you're under 30, dream on. Maturity is now a luxury only the rich can afford

We came of age in a recession which we did not cause and yet we are paying for financially and socially

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The Independent Online

Between student debt, unemployment and benefit cuts, many people in their twenties have become quietly trapped in austerity Britain. We’re at risk of creating a ‘Peter Pan’ generation of young people for whom growing up simply isn’t an option.

Mortgages, marriages and children were all traditional milestones in maturity, but for people under thirty they’re now impossible financial luxuries that we can only dream about.

I’m 23 and I graduated from university twelve months ago. After a jubilant day of throwing caps into the air and collecting certificates to mark three or four years of study, most people I know have quietly returned to their hometowns and moved back in with their parents because they simply cannot afford anything else.

Part time jobs, unpaid internships and zero hour contracts are the only ‘work’ on offer in a paralysed job market. They barely cover living expenses and certainly don’t stretch to rent. Unable to strike out on their own, people in their early and mid-twenties return to their childhood homes out of financial necessity and the government’s failure to give them any other real options.

A study this weekend by the Intergenerational Foundation found that the equality gap between people under 30 and people over 60 has never been wider. Last week, in his brutal budget, George Osborne announced blow after blow to young people. Already encumbered with student debt, they’ll now be expected to pay back maintenance grants if they had the audacity to be a child from a working class background who got a place at university.

The new “living wage” will not apply to people under 25, who will now be made to do the same work as those over 25 for less pay- in the government’s starkest admission yet that it literally does not value young people. On top of this, housing benefit is to be cut for people aged 18 to 21, as the government refuses to address the mess of a housing market and instead asks parents to pick up the tab for their adult children.

We came of age in a recession which we did not cause and yet we are paying for financially and socially. As austerity rolls on the Tory government, the chasm is set to only widen. Poverty of ambition and opportunity might be a less obvious kind of deprivation but it is a ticking time bomb and as the Tories continue to fail our generation, we’ll soon see its effects.

Cuts to benefits and support services for young people only saves money on a superficial short term basis when society will have to pay the deep social costs for much longer. In years to come, we will surely see its effects in dramatically dropped birth rates and marriage rates as people simply can’t afford to start families. We also risk creating a deeply insular and inward looking society as people return to the lives, hometowns and experiences with which they grew up and never have the chance to branch out and choose a different way of life to their parents.

Furthermore, the impact on mental health could prove devastating. Many people I know who find themselves still living with their parents as their twenties roll on speak of a profound sense of despair and depression at how their lives have turned out. They lie awake at night in their childhood beds, while their parents and siblings sleep in the rooms next door, and in angry silence countdown the time until the economic climate comes down on their side for the first time in their lives.

Young people are easy targets in this economic climate and this has been exploited fully by the Conservative lead coalition and the majority government today. Perhaps the government has managed to delude itself that we can simply bounce back from knockbacks by virtue of being young. Perhaps we’re just collateral damage in the pursuit of the Tory ideology that families units should triumph over state responsibility. Or, perhaps the Conservatives have merely decided to not even bother to pretend they care about the young, who form such a small slice of their potential electorate that they know they can attack us without paying the price at the polls.

Whatever the logic, we’re creating a generation of trapped Peter Pans who desperately want to grow up but are stuck in a lingering limbo of adolescence against our wills. Under this government, human development has been commodified and maturity is now a luxury which only the rich can afford. Poverty of ambition and opportunity have been gnawing away at young people for years under austerity, it’s only a matter of time before we see what a profound mark it makes on this generation.