At last the tedious humdrum of the Westminster parties’ baseless slanging match is ceased. Sort of. Personality politics on the backburner, policy back at the fore, early Autumn saw the unthinkable happen: all three parties articulating their 2015 vision. Even the Labour Party, after months of hiding behind vague excuses of not knowing the fiscal state of the nation by May 2015, were compelled to remind us what they actually stood for. That meant policy announcements.
Whilst pledges to control the cartels gas prices might appeal to vast swathes of the population (my parents included), it is perhaps a mark of the stale state of domestic politics, that such a policy monopolised the newspaper columns. A stark lack of inventiveness in either policy or rhetoric is threatening to define today’s Labour Party. There is a necessity to spell out both policies that are original, and that are targeted to each level of the electorate.
In a democracy that favours the top heavy demographic – over 65s form the largest voting group – it is imperative that young people are not short-changed. Whilst archaic legislation such as the Winter Fuel Allowance and the Older Person Bus Pass go largely unchallenged in the interests of keeping the ‘grey vote’, there remains a distinct complacency in not seeking out the votes of the under 25s.
Damningly, Labour’s 2010 Manifesto omitted to include a chapter dedicated to young people. To have however a chapter dedicated to outlining policy on ‘Families and Older People’, surely serves to prove this political disconnect. Yes, ‘Education’ inevitably formed a detailed component of the said manifesto, but to overlook the much broader issues facing young people today, is naïve and a disservice to the 6 million voters under 25.
Thus, in the absence of any party ‘Youth Manifesto’ I spell out my own vision. Mr Miliband would do well to take note…
1) Votes for 16 Year Olds
A personal favourite! There is no better way to fostering youth engagement within our democratic system. Further, enfranchising a further 1.6m young people would make youth policy, long overlooked, a vote-winning priority for the big three parties.
2) A Universal Minimum Wage
As highlighted by the Labour MP Alex Cunningham, “It is wrong for two people of different ages, who sit alongside each other doing the same job, to receive different wages.” In an era of squeeze on small businesses, I suggest that the government subsidies the difference between the current under 18 rates of pay and the new Universal Wage.
Under 18s deserve the same pay, yet with youth unemployment at record levels, it’s crucial that businesses are incentivized into recruiting them. Admittedly, from 2015 under 18s will only be in part time employment, owing to the raising of the age of compulsory education, yet a universal minimum age will ensure young people can gain a vital first stamp on their CV, early on.
3) Personal Financial Management as Part of the Post 16 Curriculum
Amidst a credit card culture, society’s love affair with plastic exemplifies unsustainable economics. Astronomical interest rates have crippled many a student’s budgeting, with the common place targeting of credit card providers and pay day loan sharks on young people, deeply unsettling. It is vital that young people are given independent financial education from the age of 16 so that the next generation might avoid the bane of UK Plc. – debt.
4) Special Youth Savers Account
Integral to safeguarding financial sustainability is the practice of saving. Whilst university education might make borrowing inevitable, the availability of a high interest saving account for under 25s would form a long term route to getting on the property ladder, whilst establishing a saving ethic. With an annual interest rate of 5% (paid for by better government enforcement of corporation tax), the money would be invested in new small businesses, and guaranteed by the Chancellor.
5) Online Gambling
Following the Labour Government’s relaxing of gambling regulation back in 2007, the UK online gambling market has swelled, fuelling a ‘habit’ that has enveloped millions of Britons. The charity Gamcare’s 2011/2012 statistics show that a third of its callers seeking help for an addiction are under 25.
A preponderance of free smartphone apps has made gambling easier and apparently more socially acceptable than ever. Greater regulation is vital – the Chancellor’s economic self-interest in the wealth of tax revenues the tainted industry brings, must not come first.
Such a five point manifesto might have its flaws – yet in just a few paragraphs it targets genuine youth issues more comprehensively than many Party manifestos to go before. With less than 18 months to go before the next General Election, one can only hope that a Party finally takes the initiative to serve the nation’s youth – not merely playing to political pragmatism and charming the largest voting cohort.