Today is polling day in the UK general election, it also coincides with the day that our final year students are leaving, and that got me thinking.
I didn’t have to pay a penny in tuition fees to get my degree, and I got a grant meaning that I didn’t need paid work and could focus on my studies. When my wife and I had kids, we were able to buy a family-sized flat in London even when, at times, only one of us was working and we had hardly any savings.
Most of you will leave university having clocked up £27000 in loans and supported yourselves by paid work throughout your degree. Judging by the experience of my 20- and 30-something nieces and nephews, and their friends – and to put it very mildly – few of you will be able to buy a property in the town where you work; many will have to pay very high rents and/or travel costs to get to work. Your conditions in the workplace will be less secure – we now have the “gig economy” where young people in particular are expected to volunteer and work zero-hour contracts on demand.
The opportunities of young people have clearly deteriorated over the last decades. In my opinion one reason for this is that, over most of my lifetime, politicians have been less concerned with what happens to young people than with the older people who vote in much larger numbers (78% of over 65s voted in the last election compared with 43% of 18-24 year olds). I saw lots of over 65s leaving the polling station when I voted this morning – no one younger than me.
The country is now politically split on generational lines. This was demonstrated very clearly in the Brexit referendum, but it is also true in the general election. Please take a look at these polling figures in the Economist and take the time to click on the buttons to see how starkly the voting intentions of younger and older people differ.
This is one of the most important elections in our lifetimes. The Brexit result will completely change our lives regardless of who wins, but for once we are not being asked to choose between slightly different “brands”, coke v pepsi, but between strikingly different political philosophies. Every vote counts because even if the party you vote for doesn’t win, it will send politicians a very clear message that young people’s views can’t safely be ignored. You almost certainly won’t get another chance to vote for 5 years – think where you’ll be then.
This year I’ll be 50. I’ve been lucky and benefited hugely from the support of the NHS and welfare state that my grandparents generation helped set up after World War II. They put everything on the line to defend our right to vote. I remember them and I will never betray their sacrifices by not using that right. But I won’t use it to feather my own nest at the expense of the next generation. I don’t want a world setup neatly for my retirement if it comes at the cost of my children and grandchildren’s futures. I couldn’t forgive myself if I didn’t post this in time to persuade a few more young people to vote today. The polls don’t close until 10pm.
*this message is a very personal one, but I am glad to say it is the official position of my employers to encourage students to vote. Quite right, too.