Young people beware! With the tightest election result anticipated for many decades come May, political parties are using increasingly desperate tactics to find votes, with bigger promises offered and little policy detail to back these promises up.
So who should young people vote for? As a non-party-political charitable think tank, the Intergenerational Foundation is unable to support any one party or set of parties. However, it is possible to analyse each party’s manifesto to see whether their major election promises are in the interests of younger and future generations.
On the face of it, £30 billion of “fiscal consolidation”, £12 billion of “welfare savings” and £13 billion of “departmental savings” should be in the interests of younger and future generations by reducing the amount of interest payments younger and future generations will have to make to service the national debt. However, the devil will be in the detail. How intergenerationally fair will these “savings” be if spending on the most expensive section of society, the over-65s, is excluded? Especially as increasing evidence from IF, the IFS and other respected organisations reveals that the over-60s are the only group to have improved their living standards since the 2007 global crisis.
There is good news for “working families” with the Conservatives offering 30 hours of free childcare, but there is no mention of paternity leave, which is being offered by other parties. The education budget is to be protected, but is that in real terms or will there be some creative accounting? The promise to train 17,500 maths and physics teachers is a clear investment in educating younger and future generations and is to be welcomed, as are free school meals for all infants. However, the lack of movement on lowering tuition fees, when it is clear to many that the current system is unsustainable, could undermine other family-friendly policies.
Raising the national minimum wage to £8 per hour, banning exclusivity in zero-hours contracts, promising 3 million apprenticeships and excluding employers from national insurance contributions if they hire under-25s are all to be welcomed. However, there is no mention of how exploitative unpaid internships should be addressed, and too little action on zero-hours contracts to prevent exploitation by companies avoiding giving staff members the employment protection that they would receive from a permanent position.
Housing is one of the key issues for many young people who are trapped in rented accommodation paying high rents and who would like to get on the property ladder. The promise of 20,000 starter homes with a 20% discount is startlingly low when it is generally agreed that we need to build 200,000 new homes each year for the next ten years in order to meet current demand. The extension of Help To Buy may seem like a helping hand onto the property ladder but will this just stoke house prices further? Would it be better for younger and future generations if these measures were withdrawn in order for house prices to fall to more sustainable levels when no buyers step forward? The Help To Buy ISA should be welcomed as it offers an incentive for young people to save, but a look at the fine detail shows that young people can only invest £200 or less a month for £50 back from the government up to a ceiling of £12,000. The reality is that a £15,000 deposit will buy you little with a 90% LVT mortgage, so is this little more than a tokenistic nod towards the young?
For those left to the vagaries of renting, the Conservatives offer no help to address exorbitant letting agents’ fees, shoddy landlords and insecurity over tenancies. There is also no mention of diverting buy-to-let investment away from the residential market and into build-to-let, which would at least help to increase housing supply.
The Conservatives have announced an increase on health spending of £8 billion a year, a cap on residential social care charges and same-day GP appointments for all over-75s. With NHS spending on retired households already double that for working populations, the costs of an increasingly ageing population are likely to fall ever more on over-burdened younger generations unless brave policy decisions are taken. These could have included asking the wealthy old to pay more towards their own care. Instead, the Conservatives are pledging that no one should have to sell their home to pay for residential social care, thereby passing social care and NHS funding costs on to younger and future generations.
On transport the Conservatives are keen to invest in the rail network, roads and cycling safety. However, the drive to expand airport capacity flies in the face of intergenerational fairness when nitrous oxide emissions at high altitude are one of the worst culprits for increasing carbon emissions, thereby putting future generations’ rights to a cleaner world at risk. Shouldn’t a party concerned about the interests of younger and future generations be doing more not less to get non-essential short-haul travel out of the skies and onto the rail network?
Conservative energy policy is an area where short-term energy needs have won out over a long-term plan to move to de-carbonised, renewable energy sources in the interests of younger and future generations. Gone are any subsidies to support wind farms. There is also no mention of solar. While the creation of a Sovereign Wealth Fund is welcome, it is sadly tied to the UK’s entry into shale gas extraction. Combine shale gas policy with the cost of expanding nuclear energy and the future decommissioning and nuclear waste clean-up costs and the Conservative energy plan becomes a toxic mix of dirty fuels wrapped up in the rhetoric about the need for energy security.
Expanding infrastructure is a welcome move as long as the cost of the £100 billion investment promised is shared fairly between current generations and those to come. PFI contracts have come under increasing attack for pushing too many of the costs into the future and locking future taxpayers into costly service contracts for buildings that will not bear the test of time.
Increasing the individual personal tax allowance to £12,500 is helpful to low earners, many of whom are younger workers. A pledge not to raise National Insurance Contributions is also helpful to younger, poorer workers.
The scythe-like cuts to benefits for young people reveal where the intergenerational faultline is most acute. Removing housing benefit from 18–21 year olds, freezing working-age benefits for two years and introducing a six-month limit to the Youth Allowance all conspire to keep the young poor out of the welfare system at a time when they may need these benefits the most.
The protection of the concept of “universality” for all older people, irrespective of wealth, appears to be particularly unfair when young people are being called upon to suffer disproportionately. Already 65% of DWP benefit expenditure goes on those over working age. The most divisive of all Conservative policies must be the pre-election introduction of a market-beating Pensioner Bond, only available to the over-65s, offering 3% interest on sums up to £10,000.
Representation could have been an area where the Conservatives could have demonstrated to young people that their voice is important, but again the party appears resistant to lowering the voting age to 16 years of age. There are also no measures to address the many younger voters who have fallen off the electoral roll, with the withdrawal of block registration by universities in favour of a system of individual voter registration.