Social media was overrun with outrage in the aftermath of the vote to Brexit, as the young attacked the older generation for disregarding their futures in the EU Referendum. “[W]e have a future we don’t want because of the stupid voting by the older generation” said a young Remain supporter, Chelsea Forest on Twitter.
Older voters were much more likely to have voted to leave the EU, the majority of those aged over 45 voted to leave, rising to 60% of those aged 65+.
|Source: Lord Ashcroft Polls, 2016 (adapted for Westminster Review)|
However, the polls suggested there were many factors other than age that affected how people voted. According to Lord Ashcroft Polls, party affiliation, socio-economic class, and how well-informed voters felt were also some associated factors. For example, 64% of those from the lowest socioeconomic class (DE), voted leave, compared with only 43% of those from the highest (AB).
Twitter did not give the same excoriating treatment to these working class voters, or others likely to vote leave, like Conservative voters (57% leave), or those who pay ‘little to no attention’ to politics (58% leave).
The young’s backlash specifically against the older generation only reflects a dissatisfaction with a system seemingly rigged in favour of an older population.
Older voters will certainly bear some of the burden of leaving the EU. The Treasury estimates house prices will fall by 10-18%, in the next couple of years, hitting older voters most who are more likely to own property, and as market instability continues, private pension funds may also take a hit.
However, older voters experience a government policy sympathetic to them. Older voters receive a pension ‘Triple Lock’: 1 million property inheritance tax threshold, and pensioner benefit protections, like winter fuel payment and bus pass. Even inflation, set to rise by 3-4%, is unlikely to hit over 65s, whose state pensions are protected by the ‘Triple Lock’. While Cameron did suggest Brexit may put this under threat, this is unlikely given the Conservative support base. Pollster Ipsos Mori estimates voters aged 65+ are the highest turnout group (78%). In 2015, the Conservatives won 47% of 65+ votes, compared with Labour’s 23%.
|Source: Ipsos Mori, 2015 (adapted for Westminster Review)|
The young will have to bear the majority Brexit’s repercussions, understandably criticising the older generation’s advantage. However, it was not after Brexit where young peoples’ futures were stolen. Instead, the young have been systematically ignored in the last two governments, with politics increasingly shaped by the interests the older population.
Under the coalition, university fees were allowed to increase to £9,000, with costs rising with inflation, and EMA (Educational Maintenance Allowance) cut, a £30 weekly payment to support young people from lower income families in further education. Since the Conservatives’ 2015 majority, student bursaries have been scrapped, and housing benefit discontinued for 18-21 year olds. And this year, young people are missing out on the £7.20 National Living Wage, with the minimum wage remaining as low as £3.87 per hour for under 18s.
Furthermore, government has failed to give the young the same ‘Triple-Lock’-style protection. 16-24 unemployment is 13.6%, compared with the national rate of 5.0%. And, as house prices rose 52% from £184,000 to £279,000 in the past decade (ONS House Price Index), the government schemes available give insufficient help, as the proportion of 25 year-olds still living at home has risen from a quarter to just under a third.
This is inevitable, as young people consistently have a lower turnout. Results from Ipsos Mori suggest a 2015 general election 18-24 turnout of around 43%, compared with 78% of 65+. For the EU referendum turnout, while less well researched, Sky News estimated 36% for 18-24, and 83% among those aged 65+.
There is deep inter-generational political divide in Britain. The EU referendum has only exemplified young people’s growing dissatisfaction with a politics dominated by the concerns of an aging majority. The Office for National Statistics (ONS) projects people overs 65s to account for more than 23% of total population by 2023. Brexit is a snapshot of politics to come.Instead of another referendum, which would undermine democracy, or calling for an independent London, increasing economic instability, we need to show a clear plan to remain in the European Economic Area (EEA). A clear message of continuing unity will mitigate the economic hit of leaving, reassuring investors. While we ruminate on what the generational divide means for British politics, politics increasingly becomes rigged in favour of the older generation.