Ben Spence interviews Shiv Malik about his new book, co-authored with Ed Howker, about how the neoliberal policies pursued by Thatcher and Blair have resulted in a generation worse off than the previous one.

For those who have not yet read it could you briefly sum up what the book is about?

It’s really about a group of people born after 1979, looking at how their prospects of housing and jobs and their own futures are panning out. The answer we have come up with is pretty bleak.

What did you want to achieve from the book?

We wanted to highlight the real crisis of adulthood going on, where people can’t get into stable jobs or get into stable and affordable accommodation. This whole generation of adults is incredibly frustrated and we wanted to raise awareness about that, primarily.

In light of the proposals from the Browne report, what do you think the future holds for young students who are planning on going to University, do you think this is going to put them off?

Well, I think it really will put them off and it’s a real shame. The question is what do we want to see from our young adults? At 18 they have a choice; either go into a job or go to university to get themselves further educated or skilled so they can compete in the knowledge economy. The government have said well there are too many people going to University so they hike up the fees which is just crazy. It’s like young adults are not members of society anymore.

What do you think the best alternatives to University are?

Well, there are alternatives obviously, which is apprenticeship schemes and going into work. But the point is employers don’t take those contracts seriously anymore, they don’t have to. When there’s massive unemployment, they can drive down conditions and say we won’t pay you anything. So young people end up taking unpaid internships for months on end, which is the worst scenario. The welfare government need to step in and say if we are going to have some kind of alternative to University we’ve got to make these contracts more viable for young people.

How long do you think it will take before internships become illegal to be unpaid?

They are illegal already. If you’re in education it’s viewed as students doing work experience, if you have left education or you are not in education and you do work and it’s unpaid that’s illegal. The definition becomes about what work is, essentially if you’re doing a meaningful task that you deem as work then you should be getting paid the minimum wage, that’s the law as it stands. Again young people are being let down by the government. They have literally said it’s not worth our time even though there are 120,000 unpaid internships at the moment. It’s a real tragedy.

Talking about the government letting young people down, what are your views on housing benefit being slashed on the basis of age alone? [This refers to the new rule to come into force in April 2012 whereby you need to be over 35 to qualify for Housing Benefit for single self-contained accommodation. Currently the under-25s only qualify for shared accommodation benefits.]

Well I think again it’s a real outrage. Moving that from 25 to 35 years old is saying no actually you’re not a real adult until you are 35 or 37 – it doesn’t make any sense. There used to be a time when things used to be better. We used to have things like rent control, and they used to build a whole lot more [houses]. There didn’t used to be waiting lists for social housing. Those are the things that we want back, things were much better for our parent’s generation, we have to know our history and know that it was possible.

Why do you think they [the government] have stopped the Connexions programme?

“Because we don’t care!” is basically it. I spoke to someone from Age Concern and they were cock-a-hoot about the corporate spending review. They don’t have to take a single cut whatsoever, and you know why? Because they are organised. Our generation will be lumbered with a massive social immobility that only the rich will survive and it’s an absolute tragedy. They cut things like the Connexions programme and keep and maintain all the benefits for older people.

You dedicate the book to your parents, I was wondering if there was an element of humour in this?
No, no [laughs]. We don’t think there’s a selfish generation or people have deliberately set out to steal stuff from their kids. We focused on us, we were like, hang on our generation is not doing very well in all these aspects. It’s not about beating up on our parents, it’s about doing these things in a much more profound and long term way.

Jilted Generation by Ed Howker and Shiv Malik is available now, to read the book for free on your phone simply text “JILTED” to 60300 and follow the instructions.