“Opposition to unbridled capitalism continues to grow amongst the younger generations.”
By Fraser McGuire, Vice Chair, Derbyshire Dales CLP
Many young people across the United Kingdom feel powerless and disillusioned with our political and economic system. Support for socialist ideas and policies are on the rise, whilst discontent and opposition to unbridled capitalism continues to grow amongst the younger generations.
An in-depth study by a right-wing think tank, the Institute of Economic Affairs, carried out between February and March 2021 found that 67 percent of 16–34-year-olds living in the UK would like to live in a socialist economic system. This would not come as a great shock to many young people, who would agree that a sense of anxiety about the uncertain future they face under capitalism is shared by millions across the country. A 2016 YouGov report also found that socialism is viewed more favourably than capitalism in the UK, and this positive viewpoint increases significantly in younger generations.
Certain right-wing political commentators would undoubtedly argue that increased support for socialism amongst young people is because the younger generation has it easy; because Gen Z and Millennials are all ‘entitled’ and ‘lazy’. This is, of course, nonsense. Younger generations in the UK do not have it easy. Far from it, they face uncertain futures overshadowed, most notably, by the housing crisis and the consequences of climate breakdown. The upbringing of under 25s has been marked by crises of capitalism, such as the 2008 financial crash and the subsequent austerity measures which plunged millions into poverty and increased wealth inequality. It shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone that young people are beginning to reject the business-as-usual model and call for a radical restructuring of society.
On the housing front, young people can expect a future wherein house prices are nearly eight times the average annual salary, according to data from the Office for National Statistics. With the pension age increasing, coupled with increasingly widespread cuts to pensions in both the public and private sectors and consistent hikes to student loan debt, it is fair to say that without a drastic course correction many young people will likely never own their own home.
The issue of unaffordable and inaccessible housing, which young people face, is compounded by the difficulty of acquiring a mortgage alongside a total lack of national rent controls. Many young people find themselves in a seemingly impossible position, as they can be in full time employment and yet can be consistently denied a mortgage by the bank. Data shows that 41 percent of homeowners between the ages of 18 and 24 had a previous mortgage application rejected, compared with a staggeringly low 4 percent of those aged 60 and above.
This often forces young people into a situation where they pay a much higher amount in private rent than they would have to for a mortgage, thereby creating an incredibly stressful and difficult situation for millions of young people. It is hardly surprising, then, that the young associate the housing crisis with capitalism, with 78 percent of those in the 16-34 age range agreeing that capitalism is to blame for the abhorrent state of housing in the UK.
Critically, young people are beginning to understand that only socialist policies; rent controls, protections for vulnerable tenants, government investment in safe and affordable housing, can end the housing crisis. We need environmentally friendly homes built for people to live in rather than for profit, working people given priority over private landlords, rather than the current system where the anarchy of the free market makes houses increasingly inaccessible, and rent ever more unaffordable.
Taking in the bigger picture, those under the age of 25 would likely be in near unanimous agreement that climate breakdown is the single greatest political issue, and the single greatest threat to the longevity of humanity. Recently, the IPCC Working Group 1 Report declared that the 1.5°C threshold, which previous climate reports have called ‘the tipping point’ is now almost totally unavoidable without immediate, radical change. UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres stated that the report is “Code Red for humanity”.
Three quarters of young people agree that the capitalist economic system is responsible for climate breakdown. Based upon short term profits and rampant individualism, it is a system that cannot possibly hope to solve a long-term issue that threatens humanity as a collective. For myself, and many other young people, the looming threat of the effects of climate breakdown that hangs over the future creates nothing but uncertainty and anxiety.
The link between capitalism and climate breakdown is being recognised by an increasing proportion of the general public- as capitalism places more value on short term profits than the protection of the planet and our natural environment, and this is greatly strengthening the calls of young people for a more equal society that emphasises public safety and security. Yet many young people who act and speak out about the threat to our future are still branded as too radical, and told to grow up, often by older politicians who will undoubtedly no longer be around when the worst effects of climate breakdown really hit home.
It is not because of laziness, entitlement, or ignorance that more and more young people are rejecting capitalism and embracing socialist thinking. It is the understanding that our system of private ownership, unrestricted markets, and economic growth at an awful cost to our natural environment, isn’t just unfair, isn’t just inefficient – and is preventing millions of young people from having any guarantee of a safe and stable future. Only socialist policies and a government which works for ordinary people, not the ultra-rich, can bring about the radical change that is so desperately needed today.
- Fraser McGuire is the Vice Chair of Derbyshire Dales CLP.