The corrupt cozzie livs: Labour MP Nadia Whittome breaks down cost of living crisis’ impact on gen Z

By Charlie Sawyer

Published May 24, 2023 at 09:15 AM

Reading time: 4 minutes

The cost of living crisis, the COLC, cozzie livs—whatever you chose to call it, it’s a financial turd that’s been stinking up our lives for over two years now. The rental market is kaput, job security is down, we’re carrying around a bucket load of student debt, and our mental health is at an all time low. So, what to do?

No matter how involved (or not) you are into current affairs, the current cost of living crisis has come with a plethora of both immediate and long-term impacts on young people, making it impossible to turn a blind eye to it. And, having accepted that the mainstream media isn’t doing nearly enough to properly highlight these issues, we’ve turned to the only politician in the UK us gen Zers can trust: Labour’s most valuable asset, 26-year-old MP Nadia Whittome.

As an MP for Nottingham, and having become the youngest British MP to be elected in 2019 at the age of 23, Whittome has dedicated much of her political service to being a voice for gen Zers across the country.

As someone who not only gets to have these conversations with her constituents on a regular basis, but is also directly involved with seeing first-hand the failings of the current UK government, Whittome has invaluable perspective to offer.

We understand that in no way is this insight going to immediately help the lives of young people in the UK. However, we feel that it’s crucial we start having more important conversations with people who can actually make a difference, in hopes that eventually we can make an impact and subsequently spur some kind of change.

What is it exactly that’s made our generation so incredibly vulnerable to this financial crisis?

“I think our generation, gen Zers, are especially vulnerable to the cost living crisis because we’re a generation that overwhelmingly rents. We’re in high debt, and we also earn very low wages. Moreover, for those of us who are also students, of which there are many, that also brings a whole other set of problems as well.

In terms of wages, our wages are now lower than what people’s were when they were our age in the late 90s, which is really shocking, because that’s either when many of us were born or just before we were born. We’re also seeing more financial precarity. There was a study last year that said that nearly half, I think it was 47 per cent of young people, are in financially precarious situations. And that will have a really serious, immediate impact on our generation right now.

So, we’re seeing things such as one quarter of young people are skipping meals to make ends meet. Over the winter, nearly half of young people had fears that they wouldn’t have enough money to buy essentials. Two in five are finding it difficult or very difficult to pay energy bills since the beginning of 2023, and that’s been something I’ve seen in my own constituency.”

How has the cost of living crisis impacted young people’s education, their social lives, and their mental health?

“There is one case example that I thought of which exemplifies this, bearing in mind that Nottingham is a very young city demographically. Someone recently approached my office and said that her energy bills had more than doubled from one month to the next. They were so high that she was also only left with £100 a month after paying rent. So with only £100 a month, when your energy bills have more than doubled, and when the cost of food is going up, she was understandably really struggling to make ends meet. This particular person was also a student and has a full maintenance loan, however these loans are only going up by 2.8 per cent, which is nothing compared to inflation.

It’s not surprising at all that one quarter of young people are in danger of dropping out of uni, especially considering the fact that this was still the situation before the cost of living crisis. I personally dropped out of university in 2019, largely for cost reasons. I had to then resit my first year and that was a whole extra year of costs that I had to take into account. And I just couldn’t really afford it anymore, so I just went into work instead, and even more young people are having to make that decision now.

There are all sorts of things that are impacting young people’s mental health. One of them, as you say, is having to cut back on socialising. And especially now that I mean, I guess we’re about the same age, we wouldn’t be going to youth centres, but those gen Zers who’re younger than us, might’ve socialised there. But they’ve now just been cut to the bone, because they’re not statutory, and councils can’t keep them going. So that’s impacting people’s mental health. And then things like people having to move in with their parents.

Often, people have to pick up a lot of extra work as well just to make ends meet, which then exacerbates social isolation. Because people are working all the time, they don’t have any time to spend on themselves and do things that are good for their well being like being around other people.”

How is the current UK government failing young people?

“One of the things that the government is trying to push is that the reason we have a cost of living crisis is because of Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. And obviously, that has resulted in a big geopolitical shock, because of our reliance on Russian oil and gas, but it’s also impacted some economies more than others.

We need to keep reminding people that the government didn’t fix the roof while the sun was shining. They didn’t invest in renewable energy and if they had invested in things such as retrofitting homes, then people wouldn’t be freezing to death in their homes.

There are political choices that are being made. For example, the decision not to implement a proper windfall tax to increase the minimum wage. The choice to not take these kinds of measures that are needed to eliminate, or at least alleviate, poverty.”

What are the steps that need to be taken to help gen Zers right now?

“There needs to be a minimum wage of £15 an hour for people of all ages whereas at the moment under 18s can be paid as little as £4.81. There’s also the matter of age discrimination in regards to receiving benefits. So, generally if you’re under 25, you may receive less in benefits than those who are over 25. For young students, we need to provide adequate maintenance grants and tuition grants that don’t need to be repaid.

Landlords are also almost completely unregulated. They can just put up rents whenever they feel like it by however much they want. That’s another thing that I think the government should be doing, is freezing rents and stopping evictions. So, if people fall short of their rent, they shouldn’t be evicted. But also giving local authorities the power to implement rent controls, which is one of the things that Sadiq Khan is calling for the power to do in London. We can’t allow private landlords to continue the way they’re going.

Although it’s not as though our parents experienced complete class equality, what our generation is currently experiencing is on a much bigger scale. There are people who want to divide us by generations but the reason why young people are experiencing this particularly keenly is because of the class position of a lot of young people. We’re a generation of precarity, whether that’s in housing, jobs or education.”

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