I’ll put my cards on the table. Some years ago, I decided that my two children would have a firm financial foundation for their adult lives. Shortly after they were born, I started to put away a modest sum into a savings account every month.
Augmented by a small inheritance from their late grandmother, I’m aiming for a pot of £10,000 each by the time they are 18. Then it’s up to them. Travel, a first car, a deposit on a house (which my son is already thinking about) or a contribution towards higher education tuition fees. I honestly don’t mind what they do with it, as long as it helps them make their way in the world.
It has not been easy, finding this cash month in, month out. And some people say I’m mad, allowing Jack and Lizzie access to their nest egg at the tender age of 18. What if they blow it all on a round-the-world trip? I say, what if they do? They have the rest of their lives to knuckle down and earn the money they need to buy a house, raise a family and pay into a pension. Just as I did. It’s called adulthood.
And this is my major issue with the Resolution Foundation’s proposal to give all 25-year-olds a publicly-funded cash hand-out of precisely the same sum that I’ve scrimped and saved to put by. As a country, we’re supposed to be tackling the culture of dependency which has stifled economic growth and seen millions of families stuck in a cycle of worklessness. How can it be morally right to propose a government gift like this?
Surely, we should be promoting the idea that firm financial foundations begin at home. My family is hardly well-off. Without getting too personal, let me tell you that my own fiscal circumstances have been pretty challenging these past few years; divorce, house move, general financial restructuring. Still, my son and daughter know that beyond question their mother has always put them first, sacrificing a lot along the way.
And 18 is when you have to make some pretty life-determining decisions, not 25. I don’t want either of my two to leave school and think, ‘I can’t do that because I can’t afford it’. I remember all too well when I was 18 and had accepted a university place to study English.
I spent days and nights fretting over money before I went. I don’t want my children to be clouded by such anxiety; I want them to have the tools to take a chance.
These days, financial constraints are an even bigger deterrent when it comes to higher education. Lizzie has set her heart on becoming a choreographer. She’s already planned how she will use her 18th birthday cash. It will pay her bills for her first year studying in London, and she’ll get a job in a café to support herself too. I’m proud to be able to offer her the reassurance she needs. I’m also proud that I’ve taught her well that working and saving does pay off.
Say she didn’t have her pot to fall back on. She might think that London wasn’t for the likes of her, and end up closing the door on all that potential. What use would £10,000 government cash be to her at 25? By then, she might be like countless other talented young people in our region who can’t find the funds to take their ambition to sing, dance or act for a living further.
I know plenty of young dancers good enough to be accepted by any leading performing arts college, yet they’re still living at home in South Yorkshire, working behind a bar when they should be warming up at the barre.
Baron David “Two Brains” Willetts, the executive chairman of the Resolution Foundation, is regarded as a very clever man. However, he clearly has limited knowledge of the real challenges that so many under-25s face. Whole avenues are marked ‘no entry’ as soon as they leave school.
As a former minister for universities, if he truly believes that this proposed £10,000 has the power to change lives, he should wind it back seven years and hand it out when it really can.
And also, I’m not sure about the universality of the proposal. Does a privileged young person with a public-school education and parents who can buy them a car and an apartment outright, really deserve a hand-out as much as a kid struggling to find the bus fare for a job interview?
Lord Willetts says it’s about ironing out perceived inter-generational unfairness, but what about social unfairness? To make it truly fair, it would have to be thoroughly means-tested. And really, why should any government invest millions into a system to administer such a massive undertaking? And why should we ‘lucky’ baby boomers and members of Generation X be the ones to pay for it, through higher taxes and National Insurance contributions?
By all means help our children stand on their own two feet, but don’t prop them up for the rest of their lives.