If the younger generation won’t bother to vote, it’s no wonder the policies don’t favour them

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

We must do more to help the young

Alexander Pannett 7.30am

In Roman times, Janus, the two-faced god, emphasised change and the development of youth into adulthood.

It must therefore be galling to British school children that modern education in the UK has changed little with its own two-faced approach.

On the one hand, they must forever be taking more exams, more coursework and more responsibilities in order to compete in a globalised world for the jobs and life that their parents assumed was a birthright.

On the other, pupils’ achievements are mocked as poor return in an age of grade inflation, ever-falling exam standards and supposedly parlous work-ethic.

Those that survive the pressure cauldron of school and manage to secure a coveted place at University find, with bitter irony, that their education is transformed into a shadow of its former intensity, in many cases consisting of a mere two to four hours “contact time” a week, in classes of twenty or thirty.  A friend of mine did not even have a single assessment to complete in her first three months of University.

“Student-led” seminars are prevalent, where often a distracted tutor sits in the corner, nursing a particular esoteric brand of instant coffee and wondering whether the etymology of ennui can be traced back to Shakespeare’s cat. Or some such nonsense.

And now you have to pay for such “higher education”.

Even on managing to graduate without bankruptcy or gout, students are required to perform intricate initiation “tests” by graduate recruitment personnel, who, despite twenty odd years of supposedly world class education, will judge students’ suitability for employment on their ability to build towers out of rolled up newspapers.

Or they may get lucky and be sent off to fight in one of the wars that have been fostered on them by middle aged arm chair generals and suffer rejection by an apathetic society for their efforts.

Throw in astonishingly high house prices for first time buyers, un-paid internships and unprecedented youth unemployment (22%) and you start to suspect that today’s youth are getting a particularly raw deal.

It is in this context that, whilst Michael Goves’s plans to request A-Level exam boards work with leading universities to raise standards should be applauded, we should be expecting a lot more action from the Government in addressing the social inequality timebomb that will arise from current youth degradation.

The Government should be much more radical about raising standards in schools by abandoning the discredited A-Level system and switching to the world-leading International Baccalaureate.  University degrees should have a mandatory minimum number of hours of contact time and ambitious students should be allowed to fit more modules into a term and so finish a degree at a quicker pace, to cut down on the regressive debt they will have to accrue.

The Government must also provide better vocational courses for students who do not choose an academic route, with enough resources and training to make these a viable alternative path into the workplace.

To achieve effective reform there must be much more dialogue between businesses, universities and schools about what skills the job market needs.  Businesses should therefore also be consulted on the content of exams for both secondary and higher education.

There should also be much more encouragement for companies to take on work experience students and pay them.  Tax incentives could be made available for companies that employ 16-24 year olds.  The lowest income tax band should be raised for 16-24 year olds to help them meet the costs of finding initial employment.

Benefits must be re-structured to recognise and relieve the youth unemployment epidemic. Jobseekers allowance should be highest for the most vulnerable, which are 16-24 year olds due to their lack of skills and experience. Currently this age bracket gets less than any other.

The Government could also issue a moratorium for every government department on making 16-24 year olds redundant due to spending cuts.  Building on Chris White’s recent Social Value Bill, the Government could ensure that the granting of government contracts is weighted in favour of companies that promote youth apprenticeships.  The Big Society Capital could also be encouraged to invest in social enterprises that directly help youth employment.

As our society grows older, we will be looking to the generosity of younger generations to sustain the prohibitively expensive welfare state that we all will rely on for our remaining years.

Unless we show compassion to the suffering youth of today, we should not be surprised if that compassion is not returned when we find ourselves dependent on them in the future.