Mayoral Insight: What’s on offer for young people?

As part of IF’s latest Vox Pop series, Felix de Courcy-Ireland, IF Volunteer, Londoner and student, looks at what the potential candidates have to offer young people with the mayoral elections just around the corner

MAYORAL ELECTION red Rubber Stamp over a white background.

The non-voting young

According to the charity Bite The Ballot, of the 7.4 million 16–24 year olds in the UK that are eligible to vote, only half are registered. And of the half registered to vote, only 43% voted in the last election. With these damning facts, it is not difficult to see why the youngest voting generation might be both under-represented and ignored by policy-makers in their mayoral manifestos.

For meaningful change to take place – such as providing young adults, students and graduates with affordable housing – then more of us need to vote. Only then might our concerns over housing, higher education debt, and the necessity for long-term thinking over short-term gain – both economically and environmentally – come about.

Get the young voting

For this to happen, England’s and London’s youth need to be galvanised. Many politicians have worked to do just this on a national level by calling for 16 year olds to be giving the vote. Now it is London’s turn with Caroline Pidgeon wanting to extend the right to vote to 16 year olds, in the hope of engaging teenagers at a younger age, and making them aware of the electoral power they have. It is disappointing that other mayoral candidates have not followed Caroline’s lead.

Housing a top priority

When it comes to the key issue of housing affordability, all parties have made sweeping promises for 200,000 new homes over their four-year tenure, with all providing innovative ideas as to where the space and money will be acquired for this undertaking. Candidates will utilise unused mayoral and brownfield land to fulfil this quota, apportioning fixed amounts of these houses to the rental market, and instigating schemes whereby first-time buyers can get the keys to their first homes – such as Labour’s “Part-Buy Part-Rent” Scheme, which will move Londoners from the “treadmill” of renting onto the “first rung” of the property ladder.

Yet it is the Greens who appear to have the backs of students specifically, with consideration of “soaring” student rents. Sian Berry has promised the commissioning of an annual “Student Living Rent” figure if she is elected, which would be used to work with universities and colleges to ensure that at least 50% of rooms in halls of residence were at this rate or lower.

Is the environment addressed?

Another area in which the youngest generations have a vested interest is, of course, the environment, and again the four parties are all promising variations of the same themes in order to tackle London’s illegally high air pollution, which is believed to cause up to 9,000 deaths annually. All are keen to encourage cycling. Zac Goldsmith is pledging to fund 100 “Pocket Farms” in primary schools, Caroline Pidgeon is looking to tax diesel cars in the city centre, and Sian Berry, among many other pledges, is supporting the closure of City Airport and opposing all road expansions.

What about addressing living costs…

Berry’s manifesto states opposition to the newly raised higher-education student fees and opposition to cuts to the Education Maintenance Allowance and the replacement of maintenance grants by loans.

… and jobs?

All four main candidates have set targets for 150,000 “high-quality” internships for the under-25s, during which participants would receive the London Living Wage and half a day per week off-the-job learning to further employment prospects. The Lib Dems go further by promising to tackle youth unemployment, at a staggering 17.2% in London, with “Apprentice Brokership Services” to get young people the experience they need to improve their employability.

Much of a muchness?

Although the Greens, and to a slightly lesser extent Lib Dems, appear to focus more on the youth of London, all the candidates appear to be pledging to deliver comprehensively on many of the same issues: keeping London’s streets safe; addressing the inequality of opportunity for women and minorities; and using technology in innovative ways to take London to new heights.

A two-horse race?

But in the current duopoly of British politics, it may be hard to justify voting for anyone other than the two leading candidates from Labour and the Conservatives. While Berry and Pidgeon have looked to engage the youngest voting generation (with Berry in particular drawing attention to the plight of students and graduates regarding housing, and promising to address the accrued financial burden of further and higher education), the truth is that neither Berry nor Pidgeon have enough backing; instead both are languishing in opinion polls with Khan and Goldsmith predicted to command two-thirds or more of the votes. It seems the public as a whole do not take either of them seriously enough – and thus a vote for either Berry or Pidgeon, or any of the other lesser-acknowledged candidates, is surely a vote in vain.

Running with this logic, the question becomes one of who – between Khan and Goldsmith – has the best interests of 16–24 year olds at heart, and who would most likely deliver on their promises?

Council Tax increases?

Of the four candidates discussed, Goldsmith is the only one who has assured the public that his grand plan is fully budgeted and that his election would see no increase in the Mayor’s share of Council Tax. But Goldsmith should beware the potential public backlash that would ensue if, during his tenure, he were to go back on his promise. The cynics amongst us may interpret the other candidates’ refusal to tie themselves to the same pledge as political hocus pocus but they should also be under no illusion that dodging the Council Tax question undermines any other claims they may make about talking straight with the great London public.

Letting the young electorate down

It is a pity that gutter politics has had to enter the electorate fight. While political tacticians might encourage the use of smear campaigns and personal jibes and insults, many of us, whatever our age, are bored of such tired tactics and may well choose another candidate who we can be proud of, to fly the flag for London.