Student views: The part-time phenomenon

ARTICLES like this traditionally open with numbers. So let’s give it a try:  212,000; 1,070,000; and 2. If those figures automatically make sense to you then congratulations, fortunate reader, on your wondrous psychic ability! For everyone else though: let me explain.

Last month, leading government officials were left baffled after statistics showed that the number of people in employment had grown by 212,000, despite there being very little economic growth whatsoever (throwing aside the Tory’s smug self-appraisal following a mysterious influx of inexplicable London tourism over the summer). Experts quickly swooped in to clarify that this increase was simply – lo and behold – due to unemployed people taking up part-time jobs.

But of course, part-time jobs are traditionally the forte of students, aren’t they? Students and working mothers. Most of you reading this will be students. Some of you may be, or perhaps will one day be, working mothers.

However, it is understood that there are now 1,070,000 people in part-time employment because they can’t find full-time work. 1,070,000 people.

It is difficult for me to write about this without morphing in to an enraged Daily Mail reader fresh from meeting his new Taiwanese neighbours (“THEY’RE TAKING OUR JOBS!”) but that is essentially what is happening. Jobs that, for generations, have belonged to students are now being filled by the same people who held them five, ten, maybe even thirty years previously when they themselves were at university.

It is important to note that this is not the fault of older individuals who need work. Everyone has to eat. Our focus should instead be on the government’s shoddy treatment of young people and on the frankly lacklustre attempts of this same government to generate employment; attempts that have done nothing but strengthen social class divides and outright strip workers of their basic employment rights.

Already, I am concerned that this argument could spark a ‘them or us’ attitude; one that could see mature students with unfortunate timing having pasta pots launched at their heads, in protest against their generation, as they innocently enter the library one cold winter morning.

But to ignore this cultural shift and to ignore this government’s “Let them eat cake” attitude to those of us in higher education would be foolish; because ignorance breeds ignorance, and at least acknowledging the problem will go some way to solving it.

None of the politicians I contacted for this article – be them Labour, Tory or Lib Dem – were willing to speak to me. The collective impression I got from their agitated office assistants was that this was not an issue they were willing to touch; perhaps for fear of alienating themselves to the very people who depend on such part-time jobs, whilst students go without.

So maybe it’s time for those of us struggling to find a job to tell these politicians that we do in fact count: or, failing that, give them a two-fingered generational salute.

By Rhys Harper
(Published December 2012)}