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

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.


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

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager - South West

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Administrator - IT - Fixed Term, Part Time

£17340 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Come and join one of the UK's leading ca...

Recruitment Genius: Property Sales Consultant - Chinese Speaking - OTE £70,000

£18000 - £70000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Opportunity for a Fluent Chines...

Recruitment Genius: AV Installation Engineer

£27000 - £33000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Due to business growth, this is...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Refugees try to cross the border from Greece into Macedonia, near Gevgelija, on Wednesday. The town sits on the ‘Balkan corridor’ used by refugees, mostly from Syria, to travel from Turkey to Hungary, the gateway to the EU  

The UK response to the plight of Syrian refugees is a national embarrassment

Kevin Watkins
The provincial capital of Idlib, Syria, which fell to al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra last week  

'I was sure I’d be raped or killed. I was terrified': My life as a gay Syrian refugee who had to flee Isis

Subhi Nahas
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent