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UK youth fight for economic survival

December 06, 2012

TOBY Thorn wrote his suicide note on the back of a bank statement. The 23-year-old took his own life shortly after moving into a flatshare with friends, stressed to the point of breakdown about student loan and credit card debts amounting to just £8,000.

Only a short time ago, there might have been a functioning mental healthcare system to help young people like him, a safety net to fall back on. But that’s not the country the UK is anymore.

Suicide is not a logical response to debt, but fear is. Fear of failure, fear of never making the leap to adulthood successfully. For every young person like Toby Thorn who takes their own life in despair — nearly 2,000 every year and rising — there will be tens of thousands more who fall into anxious depression, who hurt their bodies, who fail to thrive.

Some months ago the prime minister David Cameron spoke contemptuously of people moving from college or university straight on to the welfare rolls. It’s beyond hypocrisy that those in power still treat this as a lifestyle choice for the feckless rather than a cruel necessity brought about by the spending choices of the prime minister and his pals.

Plans to remove social benefit for rent from the under-25s are due to be quietly shelved this week. They are being shelved because they are financially unworkable — something that was obvious from the start to anyone with a functioning calculator — and not because they are unjust; something that was obvious from the start to anyone with a functioning conscience.

Debt, student loans and housing insecurity. Never knowing when or if you’ll ever have a roof over your head, or enough money at the end of a precarious working week to buy decent food. That’s the reality of life for millions of people in Britain today, sapping our energy and sucking away our youth, and it’s fortunate for all of us that some are still finding the strength to organise.

UK Uncut, a protest group established to challenge cuts to the UK’s public services, are taking over stores to raise awareness of corporate tax avoidance, and this week, students occupied rooms in University College London in protest at the college’s plans to build high-end accommodation in east London, a move that will force the eviction of local residents.

Rent is at the centre of it all. Rent and the impossibility of paying it. Rents in some places in London have risen 20 per cent in the last year, while wages for under-30s have fallen by between six and 10 per cent in real terms over the last decade.

In major cities, many of those who haven’t been forced out by soaring prices are living two or three to a room or attempting to camp in empty buildings — of which there are thousands in London, since speculation has continued unabated in the recession.

This year the coalition government has criminalised squatting in residential buildings and plans to extend the legislation to commercial properties, a move that may force 20,000 people to choose between homelessness and prison.

At least 75,000 young people in the UK are going to be homeless this Christmas — and those numbers have soared, according to housing charities. It’s going to be a cold, hard, angry winter.— The Guardian, London