BRITISH society and politics are increasingly gridlocked. Shaped by exclusion and inequality – generationally, socio-economically (in class and background), in ethnic and racial terms and numerous other ways.

The UK never was an equal society. But it was once more so, becoming more egalitarian every year – 1976 was the year that the UK was the most equal in measuring income between the classes.

The same year that the New Economics Foundation – using an index of economic, social and environmental factors – found the best on record for quality of life.

Tim Jackson of the University of Surrey summarised the UK since 1976: “We’re running faster and faster but we seem to end up in the same place. A society that allows itself to be steered on a faulty myth, risks foundering on harsh reality.”

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Since then, the pursuit of inequality, the undermining of public and collective endeavour, and a decade of austerity have all prioritised older, more affluent voters.

This can all be seen in the skewed environment which excludes younger people from the housing market, limits their choices in the rented sector, puts huge pressures on them in further education and leaves them with astronomic student debt in England and Wales (on average the highest the world) – alongside declining wages and increasingly difficult employment prospects.

Generational apartheid and a lack of understanding bordering on contempt are widespread across Britain.

Howard Davies, chair of NatWest Banking Group, exemplified this last week when he discussed the challenges faced by many potential homeowners including young people: “I don’t think it is that difficult at the moment. You have to save and that is the way it always used to be.”

The deliberate way that life is stacked against younger people in the UK is seen in how politics is conducted. Younger people (those under 34 years old) decreasingly vote Tory, while the Tory vote is increasingly concentrated in those aged 65 years and over.

The political landscape is worse than this. The gap in political turnout at the last UK election between voters aged 61 and over, and 18-24 year-olds, has risen to 28 – an all-time high according to the Institute for Public Policy Research, and it is 23% between homeowners and renters and 15% between graduates and non-graduates.

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Added to this, younger voters face active discrimination in relation to the electoral franchise. Increasingly the gap between registration levels of younger and older people has grown wider. Part of this is deliberate. Tory registration changes have shifted from household signing on the electoral register to individuals – detrimentally affecting younger voters and students.

This grim state of affairs needs understanding and challenging.

First, the current economic and social model of the UK is not only unfair, it is indefensible and ultimately unsustainable.

Second, despite this, it endures because politics, media and the economy do not work for the vast majority. Instead, they work for an already privileged, more affluent group of people and insider interests.

Third, it is important to remember that this rotten state of affairs was not always how it used to be. A different reality was possible, and is possible again if people organise and challenge the status quo.

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I grew up in a working-class household in Dundee in a safe well-designed council estate with play areas for kids and green spaces. Scottish council housing in the 1970s empowered and enabled a wide social mix of people; this being my experience and of many similar places elsewhere.

The council housing I lived in was good quality. Councils then took care to build homes to a higher standard than many privately-built equivalents which were often seen as cost-cutting.

This is the opposite of how council housing has been subsequently framed and dismissed by the right-wing media and politicians with people living in them increasingly written off and stigmatised.

The historian and right-wing commentator Dominic Sandbrook once described the experience of mass council housing in the UK thus: “The problem was not just the quality of council housing, but the people who lived in them.”

My parents grew up after the war and made their first adult choices in the 1960s – to the backdrop of full employment, rising living standards, and greater opportunity for working people.

Like millions of others, I grew up with security, stability and a sense of optimism and hope. This was the world and landscape of Britain until the late 1970s: a world where people like my mum and dad thought (with some evidence) that the world being created for my generation would get better and fairer. It did not turn out like that.

Without making out that this past was a “golden era”, we must take succour from knowing that a different world is possible. A few years ago I met a group of bright young working-class people from one of Dundee’s council estates.

They were amazed that my experience, growing up on in an estate on the north-west outskirts of the city in the 1970s, was mainly unaffected by unemployment, crime and graffiti. Instead there was lots of hope. People looked out for each other, believing that by collective action they could bring about change.

The young people, motivated and informed about the world, responded with a sense of shock. All they had known on their estates was mass unemployment, crime, drugs and insecurity.

This made all of us stop to consider our assumptions. The younger people thanked me for letting them know that previous experiences of Dundee council estates for young people could be so unlike the present.

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This was humbling – as they drew energy and inspiration from the fact that life had once been so different for young working-class people in their city. It made them think that the present could be challenged – and changed again in the future.

The social contract that defines and supposedly binds together society, and makes us more than a group of competitive individuals all looking out for our self-interest, has long broken down and been deliberately trashed and humiliated by politicians and those with power.

British politics, media and society are increasingly dominated by the interests of older, more affluent workers – in effect a gerontocracy.

This is characterised by people who have gamed the system, protected their assets and interests, and refused to recognise the generational apartheid upon which their privilege is based that excludes and discriminates against younger people.

It is not only Covid and PPE contracts that give special access to the well-connected who abuse public monies.

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UK society – whether education, housing, employment or wider life chances – is increasingly defined by back door VIP lanes which define the futures of young people as they enter adult life. More and more areas of public life such as arts and culture, media and other professions, have become dominated by privately educated, privileged young people who exploit networks and connections to their advantage.

This deliberate toffification excludes those who do not have such opportunities.

How we see current society is shaped by generational experiences which feed into generational stories. The UK economic, social and political order has let down young people – and in particular the millions without privilege, private networks or affluent parents to fall back upon.

Tragically the generational experiences and stories of young people have been marginalised and disrespected in favour of a political order and a Tory Party which listens exclusively to older, affluent voters.

Those of us who experienced the virtues of solidarity in our youth have a duty to challenge the self-interest and myopia of those older voters – and make common cause with younger people.

Britain does not work.

It is fractured, divided, unhappy and rotten: a description even lots of Tory MPs let alone voters agree with.

It is time to wage war on generational apartheid and those who are only looking after number one whatever their age and sew together a new social contract for the modern age that offers support and security to everyone when they need it.