Clare Sheppard: An Open Letter To My Generation


Dear My Generation,

The generation of low opportunity and lost potential. The generation of four years in university for a part time job in retail. The generation of working over 40 hours a week (if you’re one of the lucky ones) and living with your parents because you STILL can’t afford to move out. This is my message to you.

I write this letter to you on an unexpected day off. I was supposed to be working (at my second job because just one doesn’t pay the bills these days) today but lost the shift at the last minute because frankly there isn’t enough work to go round. I write it from my parents house, where I live once more at age 25 after 5 years in my own flat because even working every waking hour across several jobs and saving every penny I can, rent is so high and mortgage deposits are so difficult to save, I can’t afford to move back out again yet. I look back fondly to my four years of university when I thought the whole world was at my feet, dreaming of graduating and becoming a young professional.

One honours degree later, here I am, trying to cobble together a full time working week from a patchwork of zero hour minimum wage contracts, eating whatever Asda is selling that week for a pound. And I am not alone in this. My story is all too common. It is the story of Britain’s forgotten young adult.

We are being let down over and over again by our own government, by the people who are paid (tens of thousands of pounds by the way) to represent us and look after us. We are forgotten and ignored by those in power. Left to wallow in unemployment or working for minimum wage that doesn’t equal living wage, doing unpaid internships in the unlikely and naive hope it will lead to something more, left to the mercy of a slowly dwindling welfare system that will brand us as criminals and scroungers and thieves if we ever dare to need it. Crushed by an economic recession that we weren’t responsible for. And I have some bad news for you. Really, you’re not going to like hearing this, but it’s our own fault.

I get it. We lost faith in the political system. At best we can’t identify with the people working within it and at worst we flat out don’t trust them.   It does nothing for us so we disengaged.

I get it. Politics is hard. The issues are complicated and huge and often the questions don’t seem to have answers and for every one person that offers a solution there are ten more to tell you why they’re wrong. Figuring it out is difficult and time consuming and nobody seems to be giving a straight answer so we disengaged.

And I get it. Sometimes (often?) politics is kind of boring. A lot of it seems kind of dull and most of it doesn’t seem to directly affect or relate to you. You’re not a farmer, so farming subsidies don’t affect you at all, so why bother? Stuff that doesn’t seem to directly affect us is hard to care about so we disengage.

But here’s the thing. It ALL affects us in some way or another and it’s time we engaged.

We’ve been overcome by apathy and hopelessness and somewhere along the line this mistakenly convinced us that feeling powerless is the same as having no power. But we do!

We have let ourselves be forgotten because we stopped caring. Or stopped seeing the point in trying. And we don’t even know some of the harms being done us because we’re not going to the trouble of finding out and they are certainly not going to tell us. But that doesn’t mean we aren’t being harmed and that doesn’t mean it’s not wrong. If I punch you in your sleep your face will still hurt in the morning whether you noticed it happen or not. We are essentially being date raped by our own government and we’re roofying ourselves.

And it has to stop. It’s time to stop feeling sorry for ourselves. It’s time to escape the never ending cycle of of eat, sleep, job search, repeat. It’s time to stop letting our lives be dictated by people who care more about their pay rises, second homes and tax subsidies for their rich pals than our needs. It’s time to wake up. It’s time to get involved.

Because here’s the thing, our political system may be rubbish in a lot of ways, but right now it’s the only one we’ve got and ignoring it won’t make it go away. If we want something to change, we have to make it change. We have to get involved. Infiltrate the system and work it from the inside. Become such a powerful force and speak with a voice so loud we cannot be ignored and our needs must be met. And the way to do it is laughably easy.

We have to vote.

It’s easy. Just like you do for the X-Factor. If you like exercising your democratic right to change the life of one person whose single you might quite like to buy one Christmas, imagine how cool it will be to change the life of everyone in the whole country. Our politicians are our X-Factor contestants and if they want to stay in the game they have to sing the songs we like.

Right now, most of the people in power are, if not exclusively the rich white male Etonian elite, by and large, fairly wealthy with an average age of 50. And they’re being elected by people with an average age of 49, and, excluding the 40 something’s, more 63 year old voters than any other age.

This means one very simple thing. When it comes to self preservation, the way to remain in politics is to cater to the needs of those who keep you in power: your wealthy funders and the older voters who choose the government. Listen to what the older, richer people want and give them it.

And us younger voters? We’re in the minority at the ballot box so, to put it simply, what we want doesn’t matter because completely ignoring us will have no detrimental effect on the politicians at all. The way democracy should work, if they upset us, we vote them out. But we’re not voting, so they can do whatever they like to us safe in the knowledge we won’t do anything about it.

But we can. And it’s time we do.

Vote. Vote every chance you get. General elections, European elections, local council elections… always vote. Fellow Scots, make sure you get out there and vote in the referendum. Whatever your vote, use it. Don’t be caught out. Get on that voters register. Make sure any time ANYONE is given the power to speak for you you have a say in who that person is. If enough of us do it, we will matter!

I don’t care who you vote for. That’s up to you to decide. Know what you believe in, know what you want and vote for the people who will give you those things. Find out what different parties stand for and vote for the ones who stand for you.

Watch the news. Read the papers. Find out what’s going on out there. I promise you’ll be shocked at some of the things that happen in your name. I know sometimes it’s really depressing, but avoiding it doesn’t mean the sad things don’t happen. Then isn’t it better to feel sad for a bit then try and change it? Stand up for the vulnerable by voting for people who will protect them. For the love of God don’t believe everything you hear or read. Ask questions. If something seems fishy, dig deeper. If you don’t like something, find out more. Find out who’s responsible and hold them to account. Read widely. See what different sources say about things, the internet is a beautiful beautiful thing and there’s so much more on it than funny pictures of cats. All the information is out there. Find it. Use it.

Our democracy is dying. Some people would say it’s already dead. Our politicians are getting away with anything they want because they think nobody notices what they’re doing. They don’t represent our interests because they think we don’t care. So start caring, Britain. At least try and fix it! Hold your politicians to account and make them work for you. It won’t happen overnight and there’s a lot of work still to be done but the first step is easy. All we have to do is vote. Pay attention and vote. That’s it. Let them know, across every single party, if we don’t like what they do, they’re gone. It’s not difficult but it does need all of us, every single one. Unless you are in the white, male elite, at some point in history someone fought for your vote. You don’t even have to fight for it. Just use it.

Impotent anger is getting us nowhere. Young voters, we are letting the side down. We’re smart. We have so many opinions and so much energy,  let’s use it, and let’s use it wisely.

All it takes for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing. And all it takes for the elite to oppress us is for the majority to do the same.

18-25 year olds, there are about 6 million of us out there. Tell me that number can’t make a difference.

So vote.

Tell your friends to vote. Tell everyone you know. Share this letter, recruit an army of voters so large our politicians have no choice but to cater to us.

Politicians, you might not have heard us up until now, but hear this: We deserve better. We are young, we are angry and we are coming for you.

Lots of love,

Clare  Sheppard

National Collective


There are 16 comments

  1. David Officer

    Awesome,fiery and righteous. It’s in their interests to bore you so challenge them and ask questions. I agree with every word in this piece. Every damn word.

  2. Niall Grant

    Hi Claire, really good letter. One thing I would add to the convo is the advantage we have of being young (rather than just the disadvantage at the voting booth) that is that we get technology (well most of us) and we certainly get it better than most politicians. I think this is our “competitive advantage” in the political landscape and sadly its something we are not putting to enough good use. Any thoughts on how we could utilise this? I don’t necessarily believe that the politicians will be any better in a Independent Scotland, but I’m not here to start that debate. Rather, I just would like to see how we could influence politicians through tech for both UK or Indie Scotland? Maybe a generation of Gov Hackers [see ]!?!

    1. hatfinch

      The number of young people who actually “get” technology is, depressingly, even lower than the number of young people who vote. Most people just it to post photos to social networks. Anyone who can code can earn plenty of money and become part of the establishment.

      1. Niall Grant

        Hatfinch, You don’t need to know how to code to utilise technology to influence politicians. Although I do agree it would be nice to have a few more developers in this world its not essential to be a computer science graduate. The way I see it the fact that people are willing to share pictures is actually part of toolkit that could be used to become engaged with politics (picture can say a thousand words?)

        1. hatfinch

          I hope you’re right, but I fear most people are too busy sharing pictures of kittens and Kardashians to become politically engaged.

  3. Max Walker

    I get that you’re targeting people who aren’t normally so involved or are all that politically aware, but a lot of this letter is deeply patronising. “Yes I get it”, “Just like you do for x-factor”. Give me a break. Another point I question is this sense of entitlement – why should you be given these economic opportunities, like home ownership, that are denied to the vast majority of the global population? The truth is the prosperity of our parent’s generation really was an aberration, built on credit, that is unlikely to pass on to our own. A question – what was your degree? Something in humanities right? That leaves you totally unemployable? All well and good if you’re content with a life of noble poverty, but if you really did want to be a homeowner by the time you were 28, maybe you should have rethought that strategy. I know plenty of people in there mid 20s who graduated with science, engineering or healthcare degrees that are well on their way to owning a place of their own.

    I do agree with your general message though. More youth should vote. And they’ll only vote for candidates they can truly identify with. Which means more young people need to become the kind of political figure they themselves would vote for.

    1. Hetty

      I didn’t take this as being patronising at all. And not everyone can or wants to do science, engineering or healthcare, and all studying is valid and broadens minds, which is always a good thing. How come you say that home ownership should not be expected, yet you say you know plenty mid 20s who are well on their way to doing just that. Hmm. To have a government that is not looking after or working in the interests of our young, and who are in effect stifling opportunities is just disgraceful, in fact it is criminal. The people doing this are hypocrites, they enjoyed the spoils and then deny young people even the right to live independently if they are not well off. The future is bleak unless people of ALL ages wake up and do something to change the tide of sweeping austerity while lining the pockets of the rich even more. Just hope people do wake up and start to take part in the so called democratic process for the good of all, including the very poorest in other parts of the world. We can on,y do that from a position of standing up for everyones rights and by being engaged with politics and sharing ideas with others, as well as via intelligent debate and discussion.

    2. Magnus Jamieson

      “How dare we aspire for a better life than we have now. How dare we aspire for better conditions than those left to us by the generation before. How dare we eat as others starve. How dare we show ambition. How dare we study unprofitable degrees. ”

      The kind of attitude you’re espousing is what is holding society back. It isn’t just about the bottom line. Technology is rendering so many of the old skills obsolete and as we move forward we need artists, creative minds – what once would be called “unprofitable”. Human expression has a value far beyond a few digits on a bank balance. We don’t make things anywhere near as much as we used to, anymore, so we need people who can make ideas. The leader of one of Hamburg’s student Unions once said “if we cannot teach Egyptology and Hungarian literature in Germany, where can we”?

      What is the point in living if we can’t aspire to make life better than it is now?

      Moral relativism is redundant and pointless and needlessly tempers ambition. Why should we let the hardships and difficulties we face now stymie the aspirations of what we wish to become?

      1. Beatrice

        What is the point in living if you can’t afford to though? You may not want to study engineering or medicine, and yes, you should be happy with what you choose, but you have to accept that you won’t be able to do what you want all the time. After all, how many people have jobs they don’t want to do? I think the gist of the above comment was that every action has it’s consequences. It’s a trade off between sacrificing what you want to do, and what will get you where you want to go.

          1. Beatrice

            They’re not mutually exclusive. If you can study something you love and turn it in to a way to support yourself and your family, that’s perfect. But it’s not always the case.

    3. David

      And I know people in the hard sciences, myself included, who gained absolutely nothing from their degree. Well, that’s not entirely true for me, I gained suicidal depression from living on 3-4 hours sleep for a semester, but that’s actually made my life harder. Much, much harder. A hell that far too many can comprehend these days.

      If I could go back in time and choose between my youth and my degree (because that was the choice I made, I lost every teenage year and all of my friends) – I would have chosen my youth and friends. But alas, degrees can’t be sold like so much stock, they’re a permanent investment, not only in money and in time, but also of our souls. Which is why the treatment of graduates as ‘commodities’, as a simple ‘economic investments’ is a slap to face to the pain we endured. That is why it stings like so much vinegar on our wounds. For we are not merely wounded in the flesh, but rather, we the educated, so many of us are a generation wounded in our souls. Wounded to the point that so often, even death can seem better than our suffering.

      As far as the other degrees, for the ‘humanities’ the world so loves to loathe. Looking at the sick underbelly this civilization, I would say the humanities are you’re last and only hope. Imagine that… almost poetic. Let the stone that the builders rejected, become the cornerstone of this world. Perfect karma indeed, to be at the mercy of those you mocked. I love it. Outside of them… you’re money, politicians, armies, technologies – none of it will gain the you anything but suffering.

  4. Beatrice

    If voting had any true impact, it would be illegal. Electing someone because of their policies does not mean they will act on their promises. I think it’s wonderful that there are people like you, and i agree that everything has a knock-on effect. But saying something and doing something are two very different things.
    In regards to leaving university and not being able to find a job, surely you would have looked at the job market prior to entering university to see what course would get you there. There’s a huge lack of electrical engineers in the UK, renewable and energy engineering is on the rise, and will continue to be so, and we are in desperate need of medical personnel, as is every other country. So how, with such promising career oppertunities, do people insist that studying History of Art, Philosophy, etc… will get them a secure job that has nothing to do with their field of expertise?
    We’re too busy trying to survive to try and make a difference. To get in to the political world takes knowledge, time, sacrifice and the one thing we lack: money.

  5. Mark

    Ignoring the whingeing bit (‘it’s unfair I’m not showered with opportunity’) the powerful invocation to vote is really important. Don’t vote and watch democracy die. But there’s another part to this: if you vote and don’t get what you want, that’s no reason not to vote again. It’s an argument for involvement, not for a retreat to the ‘it”s unfair on me’ line.

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