If you’re reading this and are under the age of 34, then commiserations. Because your generation is now facing its worst economic prospects for decades. Oh, and the situation is getting worse.
That’s the conclusion of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, which has determined that not only are job prospects and wages for younger people at their lowest ebb, but that there’s been a particularly marked decline over the last five years. Unemployment has increased while wages have fallen. In the words of Frances O’Grady, the TUC General Secretary, we’re looking at a “lost generation.”
The prospects for older workers are slightly better – insomuch as their average wages haven’t decreased quite as much as they have for under-34s, and particularly 16-24 year olds. But perhaps the most revealing statistic is that people aged between 65 and 74 are now likely to be around 20p an hour better off.
It’s this last statistic that’s particularly relevant, as it says much about the state of British politics over the past couple of decades – and more particularly who political parties are appealing to and seeking to curry favour with.
It’s common knowledge that Britain’s population is not only growing but ageing. And the consequence has been that political parties across the spectrum have courted the ‘grey’ vote not only in election campaigns but during political terms. The older generation have held the keys to political power for some time and by sheer scale of numbers are a necessity to the Conservatives, Labour, Lib Dems, SNP and others.
What does that mean in practical terms? A significant proportion of government and parties’ policies are directed at older voters. The triple pension lock. Subsidised travel and television licences. These are all measures intended to appeal to older demographics.
But the pie is only so big, and courting the ‘grey’ vote means something has to give. And that’s part of the reason we’ve arrived at the precipice of having a lost generation.
Just as courting the grey vote has consequences for electoral success, the relative abandonment of the younger generation has fall-out too. Younger people are, in general, less engaged with the political process. And, for many of them, why should they be? Not unreasonably, they believe there’s nothing in it for them.
Jeremy Corbyn has talked about a new politics. But perhaps a different new politics is needed across the board – one in which some of the spotlight is turned onto younger members of the population now facing their worst prospects in generations.