9 Feb 2015

Are political parties playing the age card?

How can political parties persuade younger voters to make their way to the polling stations in May in the face of apathy, a new electoral registration system, and recent policies aimed at pensioners?

The latest polling data from Ipsos Mori shows that among voters aged 18-34, 47 per cent are planning to vote Labour, while 38 per cent are intending to vote Conservative. So it would be surprising if Tory strategists were not focused on policies for the older generations.

Voters of 55 and over are not only well know to be more likely to turn out to vote, but are also more likely to vote Tory when they do: according to Ipsos Mori, 39 per cent now intend to vote Conservative and 29 per cent to vote Labour.

But Tory MP Phillip Lee says the balance has tipped too far.

Writing in a blog he commented: “quite understandably, young people looking ahead want to know that they will be able to get a job, afford a home, raise a family and then enjoy a secure retirement. Yet it is by no means clear that all of this is on offer to them.”

‘Intergenerational theft’

When it came to office in 2010, the government brought in the pension “triple lock”, meaning pensions go up by whichever is higher between inflation or average earnings, with a minimum rise of 2.5 per cent.

However since 2010 working age voters have been faced with wages below inflation for much of the parliament and the capping or restriction of access to many benefits. New house building stalled and rental costs rose sharply.

But for Mr Lee it is the recent announcement of pensioner bonds – a savings vehicle only available to the over 65s, that is particularly problematic. He writes “the pensioner bond should not be a priority .. it is a form of intergenerational theft.”

So what are the parties offering to the young, and the old, respectively?

The Labour Party says it will

  • expand childcare provision at SureStart centres
  • increase paternity leave from two weeks to four, and increase the amount paid to at least £260 a week
  • extend free childcare from 15-25 hours a week for working parents of three and four-year-olds
  • build 200,000 homes a year by 2020
  • introduce longer-term tenancies for renters
  • introduce a mansion tax on properties worth over £2m, but defer payment for homeowners with an income of less than £42,000
  • maintain the ‘triple lock’ that guarantees pension increases

It is also considering a pledge to reduce maximum university tuition fees from £9,000.

The Conservative Party has pledged to:

  • increase amount people can earn without paying income tax from £10,600 to £12,500
  • create 3 million apprenticeships by the end of the next parliament
  • impose new leadership on failing schools, but the overall per pupil budget will no longer increase with inflation
  • protect of pensioner benefits such as free tv licences and cold-weather payments
  • maintain the ‘triple lock’ that guarantees pension increases

The LibDem manifesto has yet to be published, but it is expected to include the following pledges:

  • increase amount people can earn without paying income tax from £10,600 to £12,500
  • discount bus pass for under 21s to travel to work
  • expand free childcare to 20 hours a week for working families and expand shared parental leave
  • increase the number and quantity of apprenticeships
  • introduce a mansion tax on properties worth over £2m
  • an ‘aim’ to boost house building to 300,000 a year
  • make into law the ‘triple lock’ that guarantees pension increases

New rules mean that parents cannot register their children to vote, raising concerns that many younger voters could find themselves ineligible to take part on polling day. Registration can be done online or by post, but now has to be done individually.