- Duane Prokop / Stringer / Getty Images
Young people mostly don’t vote. This is dumb. It is not a coincidence that the old people have all the houses and jobs with “triple-lock” pensions, while the young have student debt and “gig economy” jobs. Inequality in the UK happens in part because old people vote and young people don’t.
Two things emerged recently which drove home the importance of voting, even for people who think you “don’t need to” or think their vote might be “wasted.”
The first is a tweet from Election Data, a Twitter account dedicated to voting stats and polls. It reported that a majority of young people say they will vote but don’t actually vote:
So here’s the rub. A week before election in 2015 YouGov had 60% of 18-24s saying they were certain to vote. It was 43% on election day.
— Election Data (@election_data) June 3, 2017
To put that in context, 95% of people over 65 are registered to vote, versus only 65% of younger voters, according to the Electoral Commission.
In sum, most old people vote, and most young people don’t bother.
The second is a story that Hillary Clinton tells about winning the US presidential vote but losing to Donald Trump in the electoral college because her votes were in the “wrong” places.
Ever since, no matter where Clinton goes, people come up to her and burst into tears. Then they admit that they didn’t vote because they thought it would not matter.
One night at the theatre, Clinton said:
“It was intermission, and a woman came over holding the hand of a young woman. She literally dragged her daughter over to see me. And she said, ‘My daughter has something to tell you … Tell her.’ And this girl says to me, ‘I am really sorry; I didn’t think you needed my vote and I didn’t vote.’ And her mother says [yelling], ‘Yes, she didn’t vote! You didn’t vote! You’re part of the problem!’ I said, ‘Okay, well, next time I hope you’ll vote.'”
When an entire demographic fails to vote it distorts everything. It changes who gets rich and who stays poor. It is not a coincidence that in Britain the old people have all the houses and the gold-plated “triple-lock” pensions that rise every year, while the young people have all the student debt and “gig economy” jobs with none of those guarantees.
The starkest example of this distortion came from a piece of research by the Resolution Foundation which shows that companies have started to cut the wages of younger staff in order to fund the defined contribution pensions of older staff – even though the younger workers are barred from entering those pension plans. Business Insider estimates that this shift, this nationwide policy of stripping younger workers of their pension rights, removes about £36 billion ($46 billion) from their accounts every year.
British wealth is most frequently held as property, and young people are largely priced out of that market: Low interest rates have fuelled demand, demand has increased prices, and it now takes someone on an average income to 20 years to save enough for a deposit on a house when it used to take only three, according to the Resolution Foundation. After 20 years, of course, you’re no longer young.
This split between old and young – those with property and those who rent, and those with defined benefit pensions and those without – has had a dramatic macroeconomic effect. Of the £2.7 trillion ($3.4 trillion) in new wealth created in Britain since the crash in 2007, all of it has gone to people over age 44 (on a net basis), according to the Bank of England.
- Bank of England
The over-44s were a lucky generation. Their university educations were fully funded by the government – including tuition fees and living expenses. Free college was ended in 1990 with the introduction of the first student loans. Every British person aged over 37 got a completely free ride through college. Everyone under that age has in some way paid more or gone into debt.
All of these decisions – pensions, student loans, interest rates – were made since 1986 under prime ministers Thatcher, Major, Blair, Cameron and May. And they all went against people under age 35, literally removing money from their pockets.
Now, maybe you don’t see it this way. Maybe it’s good that interest rates are low – it lowers the cost of student debt and makes mortgages cheaper. And the gig economy has created hundreds of thousands of jobs in the UK. So many jobs we now have full employment. It’s the best of times, you say.
But when you are sitting in a home whose value has risen by hundreds of thousands – a house that has functioned like a winning lottery ticket – it focuses your mind. You’re not likely to do something that might burn that ticket. You’re likely to be following politics pretty closely. You’re likely to vote. And your vote will be worth more if your twenty-something neighbours didn’t bother to register.
Old people aren’t stupid. They are going to vote.
This time, you should too.