These young Brits have only ever known Tory cuts - but now there is new hope (2024)

Divine Mbaloula shows us around her home in North London. “Our bathroom leaks into the kitchen and part of the living room,” the 14-year-old says. “The ceiling in the kitchen is rotten.”

Damp is clearly visible throughout the house, with mould spores covering the walls, paint peeling on every surface, and the family’s possessions piled up in boxes to protect them. Divine says her family suffers from asthma and ill health related to the condition of their home.

But even worse is the impact on her disabled brother Axel who has learning disabilities and severe epilepsy. “Axel can’t use the stairlift because water drips on to the electrics of the lift,” Divine explains. “So, we have to carry him upstairs.”

For the past four weeks, we have been travelling the country even more than usual for Real Britain – for a new ­election project, If Year 9 Were In No10. For me and my colleagues Claire Donnelly, Maryam Qaiser, photographer Philip Coburn, and our video team, it’s been a moving, energising antidote to the real-life election trail.

We’ve talked to young people across all four nations of the UK – on a ­mountain side, in a boxing gym, on a beach, in a youth club, outside Stormont Castle, on a housing estate, in their homes, outside their beloved football club, in a stable, and in the local park – asking young people like Divine, who were born in 2010, what they would do if they had the keys to No10.

This austerity generation was born the same year as the Conservative ­government. As a direct result, their living standards and public services have only decreased since they took their first breath. In contrast, our teenagers’ ideas for the future have been simple, clear, and rooted in their own experiences.

A young woman whose community faces being submerged should sea levels rise wants action on the climate ­emergency. A young man who sees his mother badly paid wants public sector workers paid fairly. Another teenager just wants NHS waiting lists fixed so his grandad can get the new knee he’s been waiting more than five years for.

Today bookends these young people’s lives not only as Cameron’s Children, but as May, Johnson, Truss and Sunak’s too. In their 14th or 15th year, a new future is being shaped. And, as we all awake to a new Britain and a changed political landscape, these young people offer a blueprint for a different future.

Last year, Divine, who lives in Ponders End, Enfield, says conditions got so bad the family were moved to a cramped hotel by the local council. “We were there for six months,” she says. On December 25 an ­administrative error led to the family being evicted from the hotel. So Divine, her mum Augustine, 52, 16-year-old twin brothers Axel and Bradley, and sister, Marly, 18, spent Christmas Day back in their wet, freezing cold house.

Asked what she would do if she were in No10, Divine responds without ­hesitation. She would “solve the housing crisis so no one needs to be homeless like my family were”. She dreams of becoming an architect so she can build families decent homes. But for now, she is busy caring for her disabled brother, doing her school work and playing in her church’s brass band, Faki.

“Ponders End is a really cool community,” Divine says. “But the biggest issue many of us face is housing. My mum has been fighting this for years. I want to be an architect because I want to build better houses without leaks for everyone, especially those with disabilities. The Government needs to understand the impact poor housing has on those with physical health issues. Disabled people need appropriate temporary housing.”

She also wants funding for ­education. If I was in power, I would also sort out schooling,” she says. “Our school lacks funding, which means they can’t upgrade the computers – we need more resources, we have been running out of books a lot.” Divine says her mum Augustine is her biggest inspiration.

“My mum has superpowers. She was a journalist in Congo but had to leave because it was too dangerous. When we came here, she started to train as a barrister at university in London, but couldn’t afford to carry on. Now she is a full-time carer for my brother.”

This #Yr9No10 project has been personal for me. I also have a daughter born in 2010, whose 14th birthday is tomorrow. On May 6, 2010, when the Tory-Lib Dem Coalition government was elected, I was immediately anxious about the kind of country my baby would be born into.

As Thatcher’s Children, we knew the script. But in truth, we could never have imagined just how bad it would be. One of the Coalition government’s very first actions was to get rid of Sure Start – the family support service I’d been to for antenatal lessons. And that was only the start of the cruel lie of austerity. We were meant to teach our children not to lie, when they lied and lied again.

Over the past 14 years I have watched, and written about, the impoverishment and creeping privatisation of our beloved NHS, the crisis in school funding that has led to teacher shortages and ­buildings dripping rain, like the ones from my Tory government childhood.

The ambulances queuing in the rain unable to discharge their agonised patients. The babies born in cramped hostels because of the housing crisis. The families struggling to make ends meet on zero-hour contracts or in our low economy. Grenfell. Windrush. Brexit. The sons and daughters who watched their parents die over Zoom while Downing Street partied.

This column has reported on ­disabled people who have died cruel and unnecessary deaths, sometimes alone and starving, kids going hungry, homeless people dying in SW1, right outside the Houses of Parliament, and terrified refugees locked up inside Napier Barracks.

And on the murder of my friend, Jo Cox, by a far-right terrorist emboldened by the rhetoric in ­mainstream politics against ­immigrants who Jo thought made her constituency stronger. Our kids have lived through all of it. And, yet somehow, against all odds, all of the young people in our films and stories – in their own way – have managed to hold on to hope and ­kindness and integrity.

They are full of the positive, ­optimistic ideas we need now, this morning, as our country faces a new dawn.If acted on, Britain will be a kinder, better, fairer place that values everyone. And that future is now.

These young Brits have only ever known Tory cuts - but now there is new hope (2024)


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