First published on ProgressOnline
It is undeniable that the terrible cuts of the Lib-Con coalition are focused on the young. Our country’s potential lies in the hands of our young people and this government should be offering them helping hand not holding them back.
To date we have seen the Future Jobs Fund axed, the baby bonds abolished, 10,000 student places erased and free swimming for under 16s cut, cut, cut.
None of these are cuts to waste, they all waste the potential of those we should be cherishing most. What is deeply regrettable is that all of these cuts could have been prevented.
During the general election, the Tories fell over themselves to promise no cuts to the excellent advances for this countries pensioners: the winter fuel allowance, free TV licenses, and pensioner tax credits to name just a few.
Why? Primarily because they are good things that have slashed the number of pensioners living in poverty by over a million.
Secondly, as we learnt with the disastrous 75p pension rise – when you go head to head with pensioners, they win the case and support from the media and public very quickly. No politician wants pensioners picketing their office.
Thirdly, and for all the cynical readers most importantly, this is the constituency most likely to vote. The “grey vote” is articulate, omnipresent and has a not insignificant solidarity vote – their children and grandchildren will advocate on their behalf and use the experiences of an older family member as a litmus test of how society treats the vulnerable. Their votes have a massive bearing on the outcome of an election. So they should, and so they did.
The missed opportunity for progressives is that we failed to do the same with our emerging generation. Young people stay democratically passive for far too long. Their advocacy groups are disparate and lack independent funds. Young local leaders are fledgling and due to age issues – transient. During the five years of a Parliament young people’s lives go through educational and employment changes, often move location and change priorities on more than one occasion.
Labour in office had the chance to change that forever. While Votes at 16 is no panacea, the important stake it gives young people in our society should not be over looked.
Last November I wrote for Progress arguing the case for votes at 16. Not for democractic participation reasons but becuase: “young people’s services are first to be cut, least likely to be consulted on and concerns about the future can be delayed for the short-termism of a parliamentary election cycle.” How true this now feels.
Young people with the vote would be treated better than the utter contempt they are experiencing right now. The coalition would have to think twice about cutting university places, job chances and other measures that can bring out the future generation’s potential.
Young people must lead any coalition against cuts that Labour now forms. It is the youth of this country being wasted by Tory cuts to “waste” and our voices will be stronger if it is those most affected who speak out against these thoughtless cuts. Giving young people the vote at 16 is more important than ever, and while we wait for this change young progressives should be front and centre of our campaign against these damaging cuts.
Richard Angell is deputy director of Progress—————————————————————–