Golden oldies? David Cameron favours the elderly because they're the ones who vote

We're in danger of entering a vicious cycle in which the disaffected young don't vote, leaving politicians to favour the old at their cost

Share
Fact File
  • 44 per cent Proportion of 18 to 24-year-olds who voted in 2010

David Cameron has been getting some stick recently for the fact that he has largely protected pensioners from the cuts while making no such concessions to people in younger demographics.

His critics are right. There is no real justification for this. Older people should not be exempt from the pain that the rest of society is being asked to endure. State pensions are "triple locked" against the cuts ensuring that they rise by either earnings inflation, prices inflation or 2.5 per cent, whichever is the highest. Free bus passes, free TV licenses and non-means tested winter fuel payments are all dolled out to those in higher age brackets. You only need to look at the reaction to the "granny tax" in the 2012 budget to see how potent older people's finances are as a political issue.

No other section of society sees such largesse. Public sector workers have seen wage freezes or below inflation rises. Those of working age on benefits are now seeing a squeeze for three years on their income. Students are seeing a tripling in their tuition fees. Even child benefit is now being means tested. This represents a clear redistribution of money from younger people to older people. So why is this happening?

The answer is simple.

Old people vote.

Any good economist will tell you how critical incentives are in getting people to behave in a certain way and the Prime Minister is just responding to them. If Cameron clobbers pensioners they are less likely to vote for his party next time around. And because they vote in much greater numbers than younger people this would have a bigger effect on his chances of reelection.

At the 2010 general election, only 44 per cent of those aged 18-24 voted and 55 per cent of those aged 25-34. Contrast this with the 76 per cent of those aged over 65 and you can see how clearly the incentives are aligned.

The solution for people in younger demographics who want to ensure they see policies implemented that are more tailored to their needs is to ensure that they and their peers vote in much higher numbers. It doesn't even matter which party they vote for. The mere fact that they are voting at all would be enough to ensure that all parties sit up, take notice and tailor policies to take account of the new electoral reality.

Disengagement

One of the problems we have at the moment is that because none of the main parties particularly appeal to younger voters, this helps to drive disengagement and to discourage voting. But the more this goes on, the more we end up in a vicious spiral where those who are disaffected by politics because they see it as not relevant to them or actively damaging them (predominantly young people) decline to vote. Thus the incentives for politicians to ignore them and focus on helping older people continues.

To break this cycle, younger members of the electorate need to seize the mantle and shake things up. Imagine how differently the tuition fees policy debacle could have played out if 90 per cent or more of 18 to 34-year-olds had voted in 2010. Suddenly the politicians would have been afraid of offending the younger generation. You can bet your bottom dollar that tripling fees would not have been on the table.

I know it shouldn't be this way. I know that MPs should treat all sections of the electorate fairly and ensure any pain is spread across the generations. But the cold hard fact is that it is this way for a reason. If those in younger demographics continue to vote in such small numbers then they should not be surprised when nothing changes.

It is in their hands.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Austen Lloyd: Private Client Solicitor - Oxford

Excellent Salary : Austen Lloyd: OXFORD - REGIONAL FIRM - An excellent opportu...

Austen Lloyd: Clinical Negligence Associate / Partner - Bristol

Super Package: Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL - SENIOR CLINICAL NEGLIGENCE - An outstan...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Consultant - Solar Energy - OTE £50,000

£15000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Fantastic opportunities are ava...

Recruitment Genius: Compute Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Compute Engineer is required to join a globa...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Syrian refugee 'Nora' with her two month-old daughter. She was one of the first Syrians to come to the UK when the Government agreed to resettle 100 people from the country  

Open letter to David Cameron on Syrian refugees: 'Several hundred people' isn't good enough

Independent Voices
Amjad Bashir said Ukip had become a 'party of ruthless self-interest'  

Could Ukip turncoat Amjad Bashir be the Churchill of his day?

Matthew Norman
Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project