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.
Central to the Green Party manifesto is a commitment to tackle climate change and reduce emissions, both of which are key to ensuring a healthy planet for future generations. The party’s policies are therefore geared around an ambitious move towards sustainable development and renewable energy, all of which is to be applauded.
The big hole in Green Party plans is however a lack of measures to eradicate the structural deficit. Deficit reduction is imperative if younger and future generations are not going to be over-loaded by current generations’ debts. The challenge is how best to reduce the deficit while treating all generations fairly. Instead, the party commits to borrowing an eye-watering £338billion in order to promote what they term “a mixed economy” as well as “increase public spending to 50% of national income”. Current UK national debt is at 89% of GDP, more than double that of 2006 so the UK’s ability to borrow may come under increasing pressure with such a high level of borrowing.
The creation of a Green Investment Bank is to be applauded but more detail is required over how the bank would be financed and what it would fund.
The Green Party family policy pledge does not include measures to help with paternity/maternity leave but offers free early years education and free childcare. They also offer to double child benefit to £40 per week but do not make clear whether it would be a universal benefit or continue to be means-tested. Free school meals, class sizes of 20 pupils or less and an end to SATs, league tables and academies are also on offer. Again, the question is how will these policies be funded?
The Green Party pledge to end tuition fees, cancel student debt and re-introduce grants for students and block grants for providers should be in the interests of younger and future generations. However, since most student loan books have already been sold to the private sector, the question remains as to how Green policy could unwind the current system.
While the Conservatives pledge three million apprenticeships, the LibDems offer two million, and Labour pledge apprenticeships for all school leavers, the Green Party promise is weaker by offering little more than “more” apprenticeships. However their offer of the creation of 1 million jobs through “green investment” goes further than the other main political parties. Again there is little mention of how these jobs will be created or funded.
The Greens commit to a raise in the National Minimum Wage to £10 per hour, £2 an hour more than other parties which would help younger, poorer workers. They also pledge to end “exploitative zero hours contracts” and ban full-time unpaid internships lasting more than four weeks. National Insurance Contributions measures appear to be restricted to abolishing employees upper threshold and reducing employer contributions to encourage employment.
Green party housing policy appears to be full of contradictions. While committing to building 500,000 new social homes for rent, they pledge to repeal the National Planning Policy Framework that provides a presumption in favour of new building. They also pledge to protect the Green Belt, even though experts report that it has doubled over recent years. The intergenerational tension is therefore how to provide new homes for current generations while protecting the environment/landscape for future generations to come. This is why IF housing recommendations include measures that encourage us to use our existing housing stock better – encouraging downsizing, intergenerational living and increasing density in urban areas where many young people wish to live. It also raises the question of whether younger generations should be forced out of rural communities due to a lack of homes and resistance to new building, when their parents’ generation built their own homes on larger plots so poorly in the 1960s and 1970s.
The pledge to help young renters with the announcement that Green policy would keep housing benefit for under-25 year olds is welcomed, as are promises to control letting agents’ fees, and introduce five year fixed tenancy agreements. The party is also committed to addressing the inequity in wealth distribution in housing by introducing higher council tax bands, a land value tax and removing the tax incentives for buy-to-let investment in order to dissuade people from using housing as an investment vehicle, as outlined in a recent IF paper.
A promise by the Green Party to increase spending on the NHS to £12bn a year may be an unaffordable promise for younger generations to fund. With NHS spending on retired households already double that for working populations, and the old age dependency ratio systematically increasing, IF would query whether this increase in spending is intergenerationally fair when the costs of an increasingly ageing population are likely to be paid by over-burdened younger generations. Free social care may also push costs onto the shoulders of young people and lead to an increase in intergenerational conflict. Young people may start to question why as they are forced to bring up their families in small over-priced homes while subsidising older, wealthy people to remain in larger and more valuable spaces. IF welcomes Green Party promises to end the use of PFI contracts. As IF’s PFI report revealed in 2012, current PFI liabilities stand at more than £240bn, with more than 20 NHS Trusts in financial straits due to interest repayment demands for poorly negotiated building and servicing contracts undertaken by both Labour and Conservative administrations.
While the Conservatives, Labour the LibDems have made a commitment to upgrade the nation’s railways, which includes support for High Speed Two, the Green Party is more interested in bringing rail back into public ownership. IF is pleased that Green Party policy includes subjecting aviation to fuel duty and VAT in order for the “real” cost of aviation fuel to be factored into the cost of flying thereby encouraging short-haul flyers to consider more environmentally friendly modes of transport. IF is also heartened to see that the Green Party acknowledges the financial struggle young people and children face in going to school, college or work with the offer of free local transport.
IF welcomes Green party policy to ban fracking, expand wind and solar and phase out nuclear energy. The question remains as to how the costs of nuclear decommissioning and waste removal are shared between older, younger and future generations. A pledge to invest in the National Grid is welcomed and long overdue since over-capacity means new renewable energy cannot currently connect in many areas.
A pledge to invest a further £85 billion in renewable energy, while welcome in theory, begs the question as to how much this borrowing today will cost future generations. More detail is needed in order to evaluate whether the costs would be shared fairly between current and future generations. The use of over-optimistically high discount rates are pushing too many of the nation’s debts onto the shoulders of future generations. Green policy could have addressed this explicitly.
Green party policy comprises the replacement of current benefits with a “Basic Income”. Again, little detail is given over how much a change of this magnitude would cost the nation. Green Party policy appears to focus on wealth redistribution with a pledge to introduce a “wealth tax” of 2% on the top 1% of earners. IF is interested in how wealth transfers are changing across the generations and would have liked to have seen an appreciation that wealth and age might be conspiring to suck wealth up the generations.
It would appear that the Green Party want to be all things to all people. While the LibDems acknowledge that wealthier older people should bear some of the burden of welfare costs, Green Party policy offers universal benefits to everyone. So, all pensioner perks remain with a flat rate £180 per week “Citizens Pension” regardless of contributions, free prescriptions, free travel and Winter Fuel Allowance, irrespective of the amount of wealth that has accrued amongst older generations. When there are 2 million over-60s living in millionaire households (including pension and housing wealth), Green Party policies have veered away from asking grey voters to step-up and play their part in redistributing benefits more fairly across the generations.
The Green Party offers benefits to younger generations such as a promise to re-introduce Educational Maintenance Allowance, end Workfare and sanctions and introduce of a “basic income” for all. The question remains once again, how can this be affordable and sustainable in the long run? The State Pension liability is currently £3.8 trillion, and rising, due to welcome increases in longevity. In the interests of younger and future generations should we not be asking older, wealthier generations to take less but take it for longer?
IF welcomes the Green Party promise to reduce the voting age to 16 years of age. However there is no mention of addressing the problem of individual voter registration which Labour have offered to reform. They also propose a written constitution with a Bill of Rights, which could lead to the interests of younger and future generations becoming enshrined in law – a first for the UK.