At the election, Labour increased its share of the vote by just one percentage point, but among the 18-24 age group, the increase was twelve percentage points (according to Ipsos MORI). If these youngest voters had set the trend for Britain as a whole then Ed Miliband would be Prime Minister.
There are many reasons why the young were so much more receptive to Miliband’s message than the rest of the population – and one of them is the continuing scourge of youth unemployment.
Writing for Cap X, Diana Furchtgott-Roth and Jared Meyer of the Manhattan Institute analyse what is a transatlantic phenomenon:
“In Britain the unemployment rate for young people ages 16 to 24 is 16 percent and in the United States it is 12 per cent. In contrast, rates for older people are lower. It is difficult for young people to believe that both countries have been in economic recovery for years, as the young have not proportionally shared in the growth.”
It’s worth mentioning that youth unemployment in Britain is down substantially from its recessionary peak (and also that the upward trend began several years before the financial crisis). Nevertheless, across most of the western world, work is much harder to come by for young people than for the working-age population as a whole.
Furchtgott-Roth and Jared Meyer argue that this is an issue of intergenerational justice, because the generation doing the least well out of the recovery is the one most heavily burdened with public debt (as they’ll have their whole lives to repay it):
“Even though many young people cannot find work, they are expected to eventually pay for their parents’ and grandparents’ spending through higher future taxes. The U.S. official government debt is £12 trillion. When future obligations to old-age healthcare and pension programs are taken into account, the so-called ‘fiscal gap’ balloons to over £135 trillion. Individual U.S. states carry an additional £3 trillion in pension obligations. This translates into a fiscal burden of over £435,000 for each person living in the United States.”
The least we should do for the young is to stop running-up further liabilities:
“The Centre for Policy Studies has proposed mandatory Inter-generational Impact Assessments to measure the costs being passed on to future generations.
“To stop betraying their youth, both countries need to restore fiscal accountability. Chancellor George Osborne has suggested a permanent budget surplus—in the States, we would settle for a simple balanced budget. Politicians need to stop promising benefits to current voters while passing the costs on to those too young to vote.”
The authors go on to argue that we need to “remove impediments to getting a first job.” Unfortunately, what they have in mind includes the minimum wage and “prohibitions on unpaid apprenticeships or internships.” Far from being impediments, these are protections against exploitation. We put quite enough hurdles in the way of our young people as it is without requiring them to go further into debt (or have rich parents) just to acquire some work experience.
A better way forward is set out in the ConservativeHome manifesto, which advocates the progressive elimination of National Insurance Contributions (a tax on jobs) starting with the under-25s. This could be paid for with higher taxes on income from property investment and other forms of speculation that do very little for the prospects of the young.
Of course, it would also help if young people started to vote in their own interests. For a start, with with the oldest voters almost twice as likely to turn out as the youngest age group, this means bothering to vote at all.
It also means persuading the young to vote in the interests of their older selves. This doesn’t come naturally to any of us. Indeed it doesn’t come naturally to a political culture that rarely looks beyond the next election.