Kevin Power has penned an absolute gem of a novel. Engaging and written in an easy style reminiscent of fellow Irish writer Joseph O’Connor, the story of how three privileged Dublin boys end up in Court following the brutal drunken kicking to death of one of their contemporaries contains universal truths about the re emergence of a rigid and exclusive Class system in these islands, amongst other themes such as binge drinking and the overwhelming symptom of the Secular Society; parents worshipping their kids and defining pre ordained roles for them, whether they like it or not.
Labour Leadership candidate Andy Burnham has picked up on the fact that contacts, wealthy parents and patronage have reared their ugly head in the last decade, and most certainly since the recession is who you know that has become the most important factor in getting on for those in their twenties.
I swore I would never use the phrase “when I was that age”, but here goes.
When we emerged from the University of Ulster with an Honours Degree in 1989, we were still of that generation where being at University was still a fairly big deal and unusual. Only 8% of people born in 1968 got degrees that year, a scandal. But it was possible for anyone to do the business at Uni due to grants (having said that we were the only two people we knew on full LEA funded bursaries) and the only qualification being the standard of your intellect.
Now nearly half of young people born in 1989 have attained degree status or it’s equivalent.
But an inadvertent by product of this seemingly great achievement for the UK education system is the return of privilege. Why? Because the shrinkage in the job market means that we have a lot of well-educated people chasing very few jobs, which match their ability.
I observe that many people aged 22 or so who went to University are doing soul destroying jobs just to keep the show on the road and pay rent plus service the scandalous amount of debt that bettering themselves entailed. I left with a debt of three figures in the form of an over draft.
Their peers who have a chance of getting on do it by initially working for free because they can afford to due to wealthy parents. In addition connections produce such work experience in law firms, MP’s offices and the such like. Uncontested internships seem to be the way to get on. I have had my eyes totally opened to this dealing with the offices of the Labour Leadership contestants. You engage them in casual conversation and they inevitably come from private schools, a red brick University and are working for free. And haven’t the cop on to keep it quiet. The same applies in the media; I had an interesting conversation with a girl working for the political desk of the Mirror who was running around compiling interviews and copy for a well-known columnist. Again, for free.
How can your average 22 year old with a shed load of debt compete against that?
Equality of opportunity should be the watchword of the new Leader of the Labour Party bringing as far as possible an end to these unfair methods of getting ahead and producing a fresh approach to how we give our young people a taste of real career options.
I propose a Future Graduate Jobs Fund to be financed by increasing the tax on investment Bank transfers to 0.3% raising an extra £2 billion. Thus openings in the graduate sector should pay Ed Miliband’s Living Wage of £8 an hour and be subject to interview. The aim of these fixed term openings would be to give young people the opportunity to mix it through work experience at an executive level or it’s equivalent and gain confidence and that all important feel of the adult work place.