Monday, 27 June 2016

What If Young People Voted?

What If Young People Voted?

I've wondered this ever since I first became interested in politics. Because the figures show, election after election, that the older generation turn out to vote while the young leave it up to someone else to decide. (We're talking generalisations, of course!) In 2015 78% of the 65 and overs exercised their democratic right to vote - in the 18 to 24 age bracket the same was true of only 43%.

Turnout at last week's referendum vote was even more starkly divided. 83% of the OAPs vs. just 36% of the under 25s.

But if you don't bother to turn up, you can't expect politicians to try and win your vote. That's why all the big parties formulate policy with the old in mind - they're the ones who will make or break their electoral chances.

Free bus passes, winter fuel payments, cold weather payments, pension credit, council tax benefit, free prescriptions and eye tests, senior railcards, free TV licences, plus rafts of local and private business arrangements for concessions on all kinds of goods and services are just some of the pensioner friendly schemes out there.

The basic state pension is now £119.30 a week, assuming you made your full NI payments, with means tested pension credit top ups available. The weekly Job Seeker's Allowance rate - assuming you've been making full NI payments - is £57.90 for those aged 18 to 24, and £73.10 for over 25s; couples can expect £114.85. The so called 'triple lock' ensures that pensions rise each year - so called 'austerity' has seen benefit rates for working age adults (currently defined as ages 18 to 65 for men and 18 to 60 for women) frozen. The pension age will rise slightly in 2020, and it is currently estimated a person born after 1995 will get to retire at the age of 73, making those working age cuts an ever bigger deal.

It feels mean spirited to talk about the possibility of reducing anything for pensioners, not least because the perception is that the majority are struggling in poverty. But if we, like the government, define relative poverty as '60% of median income after housing costs' 16% of pensioners - some 1.8 million people of a total 11 million - live below the poverty line. In contrast, of the 9 million 14 to 24 year olds living in the UK, 30% (c. 2.7 million) are in poverty.

Severe poverty in the UK is defined as ' living in a household with an equivalised income below 50 per cent of median Before Housing Costs which also experience material deprivation.' Around 900,000 pensioners fall into this category vs. 1.9 million young adults. Whichever way you look at it, poverty is a bigger issue for young people than old.

young hand in old


The received wisdom peddled by the traditional media - TV and newspapers, consumed predominantly by the over 55s - implies that all this is the fault of immigration. If it weren't for them, so the argument goes, we'd have full employment and no poverty! The truth is somewhat different.

In 2014 13.1% of the UK population (c.8.3 million people) were 'foreign-born', this includes people who have since taken British citizenship, and people who were born abroad to British parents. 8.5% of the population were 'foreign citizens', including EU nationals. These, then, are the 5.1 million or so who are supposedly causing all the problems. Except about 0.5 million of them are here on student visas, with undergraduates in particular keeping our universities afloat by paying £9,000 (EU nationals) or about £15,500 (non-EU) a year for the privilege. Tuition fees, of course, were introduced in 1998, long after our current pensioners had benefited from free higher education and apprentice opportunities. As a group, the over 65s have continued to vote for fee increases ever since.

It's difficult to say exactly how many are in skilled employment, but given that 24% of doctors working in the English NHS alone (that's about 36,000) are foreign citizens, the numbers are likely to be pretty high. Their taxes and expertise are helping to prop up public services, while the generation they tend to be most preoccupied with serving keep voting for policies which damage them. The working age UK population, as a whole, is poorly educated and low skilled - continual cuts and freezes to education funding mean we need immigrants to plug the skills gap.

When it comes to low paid and unskilled jobs, the kind of work immigrants can somewhat legitimately be accused of stealing from us, there has been a big growth in the number employed in such over the last few years. But, as LSE research points out: "the areas of the UK with large increases in EU immigration did not suffer greater falls in the jobs and pay of UK-born workers. The big falls in wages after 2008 are due to the global financial crisis and a weak economic recovery, not to immigration." The wisdom of austerity can be challenged, but if you've got to have it, it should at least be applied evenly. Salary increases for anyone are few and far between, even while pensions have seen year on year growth along with the introduction of expensive concessions like the free bus pass.

As for immigrants draining our welfare state, the figures simply don't support this supposed fact. About 78% of EU migrants of working age are in work, as are 62% of non-EU migrants. Of those not in work, only 10% or so of EU nationals claim Job Seeker's Allowance (c. 60,000 people), because a far bigger proportion of economically inactive EU (and non EU) nationals are students or dependents, in comparison to UK citizens.

I could go on, but I trust that my readers all know the score on this! And don't get me wrong, I'm not advocating some sort of Boomsday scenario. It's never a good idea to simply shift blame from one section of society to another. But - and it's a big but - we cannot continue to allow difficult questions about the sustainability of the triple lock, and other pension benefits, to go ignored because it might cost votes.

We've just seen what putting personal political ambition before the national interest can do.

The Milburn report (Social Mobility and Child Poverty in Great Britain) explicitly made the link between pension benefits and child poverty back in 2013, but it unsurprisingly went straight into the long grass. Even broaching the topic was considered too dangerous in the run up to an election, and the focus was instead given to vote winning pledges on commitment to free bus passes, and reducing levels of immigration....


Young people have to start caring about politics, and the impact it has on them. But will #Brexit be enough to spark that interest?










13 comments:

  1. As an Australian retiree, I was amazed to hear from English friends that your OAP is not means-tested. Here, my husband and I live off our superannuation, that we have paid into over our working life. Because we have this money, we don't qualify for a pension of any sort. Government pensions are means tested, so that only those who need them, get them. We are not wealthy, we worked our entire lives and lived modestly, to get our family into the position of being debt free by retirement age. We live even more modestly now, have only one car between us all, cook from scratch etc. We pay full price for our medicines etc. I am not complaining at all. I don't think taxpayers should be funding my old age, unless I can't do it myself. I regard the social security system as a safety net and was genuinely surprised when English friends who are much wealthier than us told us that they get the pension. I'm OK with the means test here and would like to think that the money that I "miss out on" is going to provide good quality health care and education for those who need it.

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    1. It's such an enshrined thing here that it feels quite controversial to even mention it - I felt really anxious hitting the 'post' button today! But we're looking at a potential slide back into recession and we can't just keep pretending it isn't an issue.

      That's such a good attitude. I have to admit I have a moan now and then that we're just over the threshold for various working age benefits which would help, but then I remind myself we're lucky to have that extra cash and if I can't go and buy something I probably don't need that week, well, I'll get over it.

      I personally think compulsory voting would be a good thing - if people really didn't want to choose they could still spoil their ballot. But then, like you say, nothing's perfect and it would probably throw up a load of new problems I've never even thought of! I do wish people would just think a little bit more about how votes can change their lives though - they might vote the way I hope, they might not, but at least they've engaged enough that they don't need to google what it was all about after the fact...

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  2. Another difference between Australia and the UK is that here, voting is compulsory for every citizen over the age of 18. Many people of all ages find it a chore to have to vote, but that's how it is. Referendums need to not only get a majority nationwide, but also a majority in the majority of states, which has its own issues, given the states have very different population levels. No system is perfect, but I agree 100% with your call to young people to vote and be involved in politics. How else do you have a say in creating the future in which you have to live?

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  3. What if indeed. Although their judgement is not yet clouded with prejudice, they can also be easily manipulated. I wonder what happens if they vote.

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    1. V. true - I do think there would be a shift in policy focus though. Everyone votes with self-interest.

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  4. I've been following this situation pretty closely, and the results, especially the demographics, really have raised my concern level for the election we have coming up here in the States #truthabout

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    1. Hopefully this whole debacle has been proof positive that protest votes are not necessarily a good idea!

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  5. Well researched post Jess and really eye-opening when you see all the figures laid out like this. It really is such a shame that young people can't be better informed and more motivated to vote - nothing will ever change without the power of the people who come to realise that it's the only way to protect their best interests. My 17 year old niece was very ardent about Brexit and would have voted Remain if she'd had a vote but instead she canvassed my mum and dad and got them to change their vote! Thanks for linking up to #thetruthabout

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    1. Good on her! I think the 'years will have to live with decision' chart that was going around was really eye opening - there really isn't any incentive for older people to put the interests of young adults first, in electoral terms.

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  6. A really interesting discussion point. It is hard because I think older people have a better understanding of how the wrong decisions can affect our lives (she says!!) but I do think that there should be a better education system in place to explain politics in a far better way. #thetruthabout

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    1. Yeah, if there's one thing this vote revealed was the lack of political education and understanding in the UK. I think it's a bit better these days as it has to be taught as part of citizenship, etc, but generally speaking there's so little awareness. x

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  7. I love that you've laid out these stats so well Jess. I'd have undoubtably been a suffragette if I'd been around then, so anyone choosing not to vote gets asked why from me and often a cold shoulder! It's very sad that our future appears to have been put in the hands of the older generations. And while I understand that too often people just don't know which way to vote, I say 'make an informed decision and use your vote!!'. Just saying. #TruthAbout

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    1. Thank you, lovely! It's really sad when you're out campaigning and young women answer the door and just say, oh, my husband/boyfriend decides all that. I mean, vote whichever way you want, but at least make up your own mind about it! x

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