Sara Benwell 10.34am
We all hear talk about the ‘lost generation’, the young people today struggling in a climate of few jobs, a steep housing ladder, and dwindling prospects of a good pension. I’m one of them.
The average age of a first-time buyer is well into one’s thirties and rising. Graduate debt is also on the up, and the state of the public finances means future generations will be picking up the baby-boomers’ bills for some years to come.
The past few years have witnessed a remarkable explosion in youth activism, supposedly a response to this demographic and economic ‘pinch’ (to borrow the terminology from a brilliant book by Tory minister David Willetts). But the fact is that until young people vote in larger numbers, nothing will change.
Before the 2010 general election many young people were enthused by the Liberal Democrats and pre-election polling seemed to indicate that Nick Clegg’s party had captured young people’s hearts and minds by speaking out about university fees and other issue important to the youth of today.
Regrettably for Mr Clegg, those young people failed to turn out to vote when it mattered.
Here’s the deal. The highest proportion of voters in the UK is overwhelmingly over 65. In fact, that cohort comprises approximately one-fifth of all voters. So the question is, if politicians know that more over-65s shall vote than any other demographic, and that young people are the unlikeliest to vote, who is likeliest to garner the most attention? The grey vote.
You could argue that young people don’t vote because they don’t identify themselves with any of the traditional political parties, and that politicians should therefore try harder to connect with them. Turn the system on its head.
Sadly that doesn’t work. It is what the Lib Dems tried to do and many young people said they intended to vote for them, but didn’t.
So the message the younger generation is sending to politicians is this: “Don’t bother considering us when it comes to policies, because even if we like what you’re saying, we still won’t go out to vote.”
When put like that, it’s no wonder that policies don’t favour young people. Of course politicians will focus on pensioners, who are statistically more likely to put an all-important ‘X’ in the box.
Of course, there is a sizeable minority of younger people who do want to engage with politics and who do vote. Yet unless we all start voting, nothing will change. It is a vicious cycle.
I genuinely believe that if I don’t vote, I am giving away my chance to have a say on how I want this country to be run. And while young people may not think any of the traditional parties entirely match their world-view, there must surely be a candidate out there, someone, somewhere, to vote for.
I hate to be one of those people that harps on about what a privilege it is to be able to cast a vote. But it is. People have fought for it, throughout the world and throughout history.
Maybe we do feel like a ‘lost generation’, and maybe we do feel as though nothing’s going our way. So maybe we should exercise the precious rights we have, take a chance, and shape our own future.
Follow Sara on Twitter @sarabenwell