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May urged to roll back policies hitting under-25s to end generational inequality

Campaign groups argue prime minister should act to end division between prosperous older generation and struggling younger people.

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “May urged to roll back policies hitting under-25s to end generational inequality” was written by Kate Lyons and Jessica Elgot, for theguardian.com on Friday 7th October 2016 06.00 UTC

Theresa May has been urged to do more to improve conditions for young people and reduce growing intergenerational inequality in Britain.

Campaign groups have urged the prime minister to do more than the previous government, including rolling back some of its policies, if she was serious in her speech to the Conservative party conference about ending the “division and unfairness” that exists in British society, including that “between a more prosperous older generation and a struggling younger generation”.

Angus Hanton, co-founder of the Intergenerational Foundation, said: “At the very least, she should roll back the exclusion of under-25s from the national living wage and housing benefit; protect young people from being excluded from in-work protections and benefits enjoyed by older colleagues; say goodbye to high interest charged in student loans; and better protect young people forced to pay high rents to rogue landlords and high fees to unscrupulous lettings’ agents,” he said.

A Guardian investigation earlier this year revealed that British young adults suffer from an unprecedented inequality between generations due to a combination of debt, joblessness, globalisation, demographics and rising house prices.

Sorana Vieru, vice-president for higher education at the National Union of Students, said the policies for universities outlined by the home secretary, Amber Rudd, on Monday – which included a promise to cut the number of international students from outside the EU to reduce immigration – would be “absolutely disastrous” for Britain’s universities.

She added that if there were a reduction in the number of international students, who tend to pay significantly higher university fees than local students, universities would see a reduction in income of about 15% to 20%, a loss of funding that local students would most likely have to plug.

Vieru also said that May’s talk of eliminating generational inequality was “just rhetoric”.

“Who’s to blame for [the inequality]?” she asked. “It’s Tory policies such as tripling tuition fees, turning maintenance grants into loans, whereas older generations have gone to university for free and had living grants as well. Who’s to blame for the fact we’re the generation with the largest student debt? It hasn’t happened on its own; it’s a result of austerity measures.”

Tim Farron, the leader of the Liberal Democrats, said the prime minister’s speech offered “nothing of substance for the next generation” on many important issues, including childcare and apprenticeships.

“If we want a long-term, sustainable economy, these issues have to be addressed now, not simply swept under the carpet. Yet, instead, young people are seeing less opportunity, less security and a Britain closing itself off from the world,” he said.

“This isn’t about pitting one generation against the next, but we cannot as a country continue to focus entirely on the oldest generations because of short-term political considerations. What the Tories seem to have forgotten is that this generation of older people are parents and grandparents, too. They want opportunities for their children and grandchildren, and they don’t want their own financial comfort to be at their children and grandchildren’s expense,” said Farron.

One area where May might offer hope to younger people is home ownership, which is out of reach for most young people as a result of sky-rocketing house prices in the past few decades.

Helen Barnard, head of analysis at the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, said it was encouraging that May put housing at the centre of her speech.

“Our research shows how much housing contributes to poverty. She has highlighted the right issue. For us, what we now want to see is what are the concrete policies she’s going to put in place to achieve it,” said Barnard.

During her speech on Tuesday, the prime minister said that high housing costs and the gap between those who own property and those who don’t “lie at the heart of falling social mobility, falling savings and low productivity”.

“There is an honest truth we need to address: we simply need to build more homes,” said May.

Duncan Stott, director of Priced Out, which campaigns for affordable homes, said that, in terms of her approach to housing, May seemed to be heading “broadly in the right direction”.

“It’s good to see more of an emphasis on building, rather than an emphasis on subsidies for ownership, which just push up house prices,” he said. “We are seeing some steps in the right direction, she at least gets the issue, but it’s whether she’s going to come up with any policies that will do what we need to genuinely tackle the housing crisis.”

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