Millennials will see two recessions before the age of 30. Brexit is turning a clash of generations into a crisis

The generations with the least to lose have piled economic misery on young people’s heads. There will be shock, anger and a mini-exodus to the European capitals

Charlie Cooper
Friday 24 June 2016 13:45 BST
Young people will emigrate to European capitals to seek a society more akin to their ideals
Young people will emigrate to European capitals to seek a society more akin to their ideals (NBTC)

It was summed up well in a message from an old university friend on WhatsApp this morning: “Two recessions before we’re 30! We’re doing well, guys.”

Of course, a second full recession is yet to materialise, but the signs aren’t good, with the pound and stock markets plunging faster than George Osborne’s political capital.

Much will be written in the coming days about a divided nation. The next Prime Minister, whoever that might be, has an enormous responsibility to heal the rifts between the 52 per cent and the 48 per cent.

Boris Johnson: There is no rush to leave EU or use Article 50

But there is one divide that is here to stay. We already knew about it from the polls and the reaction today has borne it out – the young wanted to remain, the old wanted to leave. Or to put it another way, the longer someone had to live with the consequences of Brexit, the more likely they were to reject it.

Long before the referendum was even called, the young had good reason for grievance. The Baby Boomers (and, to a lesser extent, Generation X), having enjoyed the benefits of free higher education and sitting on homes acquired while the going was good, were the architects of a financial crash that laid waste to the economy we millennials were only just becoming active participants in.

It was hard for everyone – but it was particularly hard for the young, as jobs dried up, government investment ceased and houses were no longer built in the requisite numbers. They don’t call us Generation Rent for nothing; we don’t have another option.

While our parents’ generation sat pretty on their housing investments, looking forward to generous state pensions and protected pensioners’ benefits, we saw public services cut and under-25s were even denied the national “living wage”. Oh, and thanks for introducing, and then trebling, university tuition fees.

Now a party that the majority of young voters did not vote for has held a referendum on an issue barely any of them were concerned about, and the generations with the least to lose have piled further economic misery on their heads.

In recent weeks the Leave camp has said that the young will benefit from a collapse in house prices. But if that happens, with people in negative equity, who will want to sell? And with the economy in free fall, who will build new homes? That promise, like so much in this referendum, will likely prove a chimera.

According to YouGov, 75 per cent of 18 to 24-year-olds were set to vote Remain, and 56 per cent of 25 to 49-year-olds. Not many people under 30 understand why on earth Britain would even contemplate leaving the European Union. Now that we have voted to do so, there will be shock, there will be anger, and don't be surprised if there is a mini-exodus to mainland European capitals, where the living is cheaper and the social and political atmosphere more conducive to this generation's way of thinking.

But there is more to the discontent among the young that will inevitably follow this vote than just financial considerations. The generation that grew up as EU natives, weaned in the age of the internet, has an inbuilt inclination to think beyond our borders, to reach out to neighbours. The older generation has taken our country in the opposite direction.

That will hurt many young people, who want to proudly identify as British and European. Those two selves, once compatible, have now been set up as diametric opposites.

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