John Moss is Chairman of Chingford & Woodford Green Conservative Association, a Councillor and a former Parliamentary Candidate.
To take away Labour’s 2:1 advantage amongst young voters, we need to radically re-think housing, pensions, and the costs of university tuition.
They voted this time, the 18-24 year olds, and who can blame them? And they nearly put their idol, Jeremy Corbyn, into Downing Street. Nearly, but not quite. If, as some surveys are suggesting, 21 per cent of young people voted Conservative, we need to thank them as much as we thank Ruth Davidson for keeping Corbyn out of power.
So, the new Conservative Government will have to look long and hard at the issues which excite this age group the most and come up with solutions. We have done little more than fiddle with this until now and that hasn’t worked, so we need to be radical.
Younger people worry most about getting a job, but the Conservative record on this is strong. Graduate employment remains high and in most cases well paid. Labour’s ranting about Zero-Hour Contracts also doesn’t really tune with young people, many of whom have them and like them for the flexibility they offer. Likewise, youth unemployment is low and apprenticeships are really helping to get more young people into trades and professions other than via university.
It is therefore what young people face in work that we need to focus on. I suggest it is first and foremost in areas like housing and pensions where young people feel hard done by when comparing themselves to the older generations. The cost of university tuition fee loans adds another layer to this because of its impact on their chances of buying a home or saving into a pension.
So, let’s be radical. I have written elsewhere about “no rent – shared equity” homes, where the buyer buys a percentage only, but gets to live in the whole house, but without rent on the bit they don’t buy. Where developers, Councils or Housing Associations are building on public land, this ought to form a substantial part of the “affordable” homes included in the scheme. We should also then reserve those homes for people under 30 years old. That’s age discrimination and as such is illegal, but let’s change the law to make it legal. If, over time, the equity share retained by the state is bought out, the state will get the money in the end, but this allows those affordable homes to be financed without increasing state spending or borrowing.
Next, on pensions. I am still a bit too young to have been in a “final salary” pension scheme for a long time, though I have a small one. Few people under the age of 24 are likely to have this option at all. Young people are entirely justified in feeling aggrieved, especially those going in to Public Sector jobs, where they see older, higher paid workers getting a better deal than they ever will. Through auto-enrolment, we have started to give younger people a better deal with employers required to contribute to their future pensions, but it is at a low level and older people with higher salaries are still much better supported through the current tax relief system.
Depending on your tax rate, the government will add up to a maximum of between £8,000 and £18,000 to your pension pot every year. If you’re lucky enough to pay the 45 per cent top tax rate you only need to put £22,000 in to get to the maximum £40,000 allowed to be put in every year. For a basic rate taxpayer, you need to put in £32,000. A younger person, or somebody on lower pay, isn’t likely to be able to put anything like that much and by only allowing you to catch up three years’ unused allowance, they are missing out substantially.
So, let’s change this. How about a simple BOGOF deal which is the same for everybody? For every £1 put in by the employer and employee, the government should add £1 up to a maximum of £10,000pa. This would benefit lower paid and younger workers substantially. To be fair to older, higher-paid workers, we could also lift the limit on how many years you can catch up unused allowances, possibly even lifting it completely, subject to the current maximum lifetime allowance.
And, if employers passed the sums they currently put in on employees’ behalf across to the employee first, those younger and lower paid employees would be much more aware of the total being invested and where it is invested. Perhaps in that way, they might learn a little earlier just how much we are all reliant on the success of private businesses, not only for taxes now, but our own security in retirement.
Finally, we should re-think university fee loans. Again, I’d prefer a simpler, more radical option. We allow businesses to invest in plant and machinery and recover some, if not all, of the cost through the Capital Allowances scheme. Buying your university education ought to be seen as an investment in a similar way. So, why not allow it to be tax-deductible in a similar way? First, I would count any tax paid in the five years after graduation as capital repayments of those loans. At the average graduate starting salary of around £20,000, that would reduce the debt by £2,000pa, so with rising salaries, more than £10,000 would get paid off, then allow tax relief in a similar way to Capital Allowances for another 20 years.
Without this sort of radical thinking, the youth vote will remain largely lost to us and we will continue to entrench the idea that the Conservatives only care about older people who vote rather than the younger generations who have had the rawest of raw deals over the last 20 years.