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Sat, 4 February 2023

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By Dr Simon Kaye
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Political parties must pay attention to the needs of the young

Political parties must pay attention to the needs of the young
4 min read

It is no secret that younger people today are facing a tax burden at a near all time high, double digit inflation, and wages which have been stagnant for at least the last 10 years.

Owning a house now feels like an impossible dream; for context, in the 90s, it would have taken a first-time buyer around three years to save up enough money for a deposit. Now it would take around 20. And the situation is hardly better for renters – private renting costs in Britain hit a new record this year. Is it any wonder that, according to a recent poll from IPSOS, only 17 per cent of people under the age of 24 think that political parties in this country care about young people?

The reality is that our political incentives are heavily oriented around capturing the vote of baby boomers, given the size and efficient distribution of their cohort. They themselves have not done anything wrong, but they have benefitted from favourable economic conditions and the unintended consequences of political incentives designed to appeal to them. 

Addressing intergenerational inequality is not just the moral thing to do –it would be a highly pragmatic move

This means high spending (and corresponding taxation and borrowing) on pensioner-oriented welfare in the form of policies such as the triple lock, and a planning system designed to protect the interests of existing property owners over increasing new ownership. 

This isn’t just an unfair situation for young people. A lack of housing supply in places where people want to live and work and a crushing tax burden are a drag anchor on the productivity and growth the country needs so desperately.

Both Labour and Conservative Parties claim to care about growth. It is easy to make noise about, but neither appear to have made serious considerations as to addressing the underlying incentive structures that are holding the country back. 

Continuing the current state of affairs is an electoral dead-end, in particular for the incumbent party of government. Recent polling had it trailing at 14 per cent with the 18 to 24 age bracket. By contrast, in the 2015 general election, YouGov estimated that 34 per cent of 18 to 29s voted Conservative. If this continues as a trend, the Conservatives could face a genuine existential threat, with the usual mechanisms of boosting growth, home ownership and economic competence that turned voters blue all but defunct. 

The good news for both major political parties is that there are major long-term political opportunities for whichever of them moves to seriously address intergenerational inequality. As previous polling conducted by the Adam Smith Institute has demonstrated, addressing the housing crisis is a particularly big vote-winner; almost half of voters were more willing to vote for a party that builds more homes. 

Moreover, there is public support for the type of policies which could improve the prospects of Britons’ young voters. Our new research shows that support amongst Britains for building new houses in their area has increased over the last year, whilst there is significant support for unfreezing income tax thresholds in order to lessen the tax burden on workers. 

The political gains for the Conservative Party are obvious. Whilst the common narrative by conservative commentators assumes that it will be difficult to regain the support of young people due to their more left-wing social values, this negates the fact that, at present, the Conservatives are not offering the aspirational the rewards of their own hard work and productivity. The message for them is simple: give young people something to vote for. 

Labour, on the other hand, could seek to double-down on its popularity amongst younger voters. Enacting bold and much-needed reforms which allow working people to keep more of their own money, provide a diverse range of educational opportunities to school leavers and address the unfairness of the property market are natural priorities for the Labour Party. 

Addressing intergenerational inequality is not just the moral thing to do – it would be a highly pragmatic move for whichever party chooses to take on the challenge. Owning the aspirational agenda would secure long-term political success and secure its name in the history books as one of the great reforming governments of the 21st century.

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