The Thatcher Crisis Years

1980s politics blog from TV historian Tony McMahon

The 80s was a terrible time for many of Britain’s youth. They were jobless and obliged to attend really dreadful youth training programmes – with one, I recall, involving cutting a lawn with a pair of scissors. Just to make that activity last!

There’s an MTV version of the 80s that’s irritated me for the last twenty years where everybody is a yuppie in a cream suit ready to appear in a Duran Duran video. And unfortunately, some millennials I know today assume that the experience of all Boomers in the 80s was along those lines.

In fact, the youth jobless figures were appalling from 1979 through to the mid-80s. In many parts of the country, young people gave up any hope of finding work locally and left home. Those who came to London had mixed fortunes and some, regrettably, ended up sleeping rough.

Things got so bad that there were a series of People’s Marches to London to highlight the jobless situation and try to appeal to the Prime Minister. She, however, was an unmovable object. Her secretary of state for employment, Norman Tebbit (known unaffectionately as the ‘Chingford Skinhead’) simply told teenagers to ‘get on their bike’ and find work.

This is a T-shirt from one of the People’s Marches to London that saw thousands of youngsters converge on the capital to make the point that all over Britain – but particularly in the north – teenagers were out of work with no hope and no future.

That outstretched hand of an 80s jobless youth sums up the desperation many were starting to feel. I lived near Toxteth in Liverpool in 1984 when 90% of those aged between 16 and 25 were out of work. Grim times indeed.

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