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The Kids Aren't Alright: Young People Should Live in 2012, Not the 1800s

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The BBC's new adaptation of Charles Dickens' Great Expectations rolled across our screens this Christmas, portraying the struggle of young Pip as he made his way in a turbulent Victorian world.

Having dreamed of a life beyond his brother-in-law's Smithy, Pip suddenly finds himself receiving a privileged education, thanks to the financial sponsorship of a mysterious benefactor.

'A story of the past' you say, ancient cultural history...but Pip's plight is apparently not so far from reality in 2012.

The Huffington Post UK recently reported that the financial outlook for students today are as bad as they were during the reign of Queen Victoria. Research by the University and College Union (UCU) revealed that student contribution to university funding is as high as it was in the 1890s, with undergraduates expected to foot half the bill for funding by 2014.

Young people may be surrounded by revolutionary technology, instantaneous communication and a vast wealth of online knowledge at their fingertips, but as the UCU proves, they might as well give up and wait for Miss Havisham to pluck them from obscurity like young Pip.

Putting aside the theatrical comparison to Great Expectations (students of today don't have to deal with 19th century disease), the outlook is bleak; young adults are contending with a return to the dark ages of education at a time when a myriad of factors are conspiring to undermine an entire generation.

Education cuts, student debt, the jobs crisis, and an unobtainable property ladder are fostering stale and dead-end circumstances for young people. Since the introduction of student loans and a blind social pressure to attend University, debt and the dilution of the graduate job market has lowered the value of a degree.

These facts have been in the headlines for years, but as the UCU prove, there has been no remedy from the government - in the words of The Offspring, "The Kids Aren't Alright".

Many teenagers and 20 somethings are lucky enough to have a safety net; as their years of further education roll by they can continue to be financially over-reliant on patient parents - the bank of mum and dad is always open. But some are one step away from homelessness as they pursue their dream to educate themselves.

So why are young people in such dire straits? Is there an insidious ageism creeping into our society? There is certainly not enough representation in government; the youngest Minister, 29-year-old Chloe Smith, had to defend her age at her first outing at the House of Commons Despatch Box as Economic Secretary to the Treasury last November.

A recent colossal PR disaster for young people are the riots of last year. Teenagers and young adults were seen as a dominant demographic on our TV screens, looting and burning shops. As we know, these images were not a true picture of the situation, as the Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams reminded us in his New Years message: "The youngsters out on the streets may have looked like a big crowd, but they are a minority of their generation...most people of their own age strongly shared the general feeling of dismay at this behaviour."

Three-quarters of those charged over the riots had previous criminal convictions, with an average of 15 offences each - the riots were carried out by criminals, not by young people.

But the powerful images of the glowing flames and smashed glass are an uncomfortable memory for all - British youth was damaged.

Perhaps an example of the harm caused can be seen in the recent case of Sam Main versus 'Big Man', an incident that went viral on YouTube with over two million views. 19-year-old Main was injured when a passenger, nicknamed 'Big Man', threw him off a train for not showing a valid train ticket. Were the images of a small number of hooded teenagers fresh in 'Big Man's' mind as he threw Main out of the train doors? Pure speculation, but it's plausible that the riots have reinforced prejudices against young people.

As ever, with a New Year comes a fresh start. Despite the recession of recent years and the sharp shock of the riots, we can look forward to the Olympics, Paralympics and the Queen's Diamond Jubilee as they make 2012 an exhilarating year for Britain. Lets make it an historical year for young people too - Jonathan Stokes has created a government petition calling for "a youth chamber of young people fighting for young people's causes; a young prime minister to represent them at cabinet meetings; more opportunity to debate issues in schools and an online platform where they can vote and express opinions."

I've signed Jonathan's petition, you can too by heading here.

As Pip found happiness with the sponsorship of his education by a convicted criminal in Great Expectations, let's hope young people can instead rely on our government for their best interests, allowing them to live in 2012 and not the 1800s.

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