Laurie Penny: This is a class war disguised as a generation war

Young people who left education with high hopes have had their ambitions dashed

Tuesday 11 October 2011 00:00 BST

With youth unemployment set to nudge past the million marker, it's worth reflecting on what being out of work means for the 18-to 24-year-olds who have failed to find employment since the crash of 2008. Bright young people who left school or university with high hopes have had their ambitions dashed, finding only temporary, part-time work outside their chosen field, if they have found work at all.

Many are left with a sense of growing up in a world that doesn't want them. They find themselves frantically competing for jobs and training courses as public sector work is being cut, and the private sector is failing to make up the difference. University fees are soaring as the worth of a degree in the labour market plummets. Housing is cramped and expensive. What work there is is temporary, badly paid or unpaid, and the best jobs go not to those who are best qualified or who have worked the hardest, but to those who have family connections or who can afford to slog their way through unpaid internships.

It's easy to perceive all this as an attack on the young. In fact, it is attack on the disadvantaged, on those without safety nets or resources, on those who are most easily exploited by the labour market – many of whom happen to be young, but many more of whom are women, casual workers or people on lower incomes. There is now very little room in society for those who are not already independently wealthy. This is not a generational war. It is class war.

It is small wonder that students, school pupils and young unemployed people have been taking to the streets in protest for almost a year now. A year ago the commentariat was worried about a "lost generation" sliding into apathy – now it is worried about mass civil unrest. That tells you a great deal about the state of Britain today.

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