Intergenerational unfairness: online voting is key to strengthening the voice of Britain’s disillusioned youth

By Joe Carton.

young person using smartphoneThe British political system is painfully neglecting the country’s youth. Choosing to pander to the baby boomer generation with generous offerings of a pension ‘triple lock’ and an array of retirement benefits, Britain’s main political parties are suppressing the aspiration of today’s youth by failing to address the growing disparity in wealth between generations.

The sustained deprivation burdened on young people by consecutive Governments is worth reiterating. The trebling of tuition fees will overshadow our already waning living standards for many years to come, all because we aspired to a higher education. And this is just one round in a barrage of attacks on equal opportunity for higher education. The government is now also scrapping grants for poorer students.

Beyond education, home ownership among younger people is in a state of collapse. The time it takes a typical middle-income household to save enough for a deposit has increased from 3 years in 1983 to 24 years today. Unpaid internships are now a concerning normality. The Guardian columnist Owen Jones described them as the ‘walls that have been built around professions’ that aspiring city workers are obliged to scale. Most worryingly, thousands of young people are out of work, leading to a higher likelihood of long-term ‘scarring’ in later life in terms of subsequent lower pay, higher unemployment and reduced life chances.

uk youth parliament
Members of the UK’s Youth Parliament are elected using online voting.

In fact, the situation has grown so bad that MPs have launched a major inquiry into “inter-generational fairness” over fears that the British state pension and welfare system is unfairly favouring pensioners at the expense of younger workers.

The standard explanation for Government negligence towards young people is that our generation tend to have less of a stake in the system than the middle-aged or the elderly. Those of us under 25 are less likely to turnout at a general election than any other age group, and as a result political parties see little reason to offer policy incentives to gain our vote. We pose too high a risk and offer too little a reward for the main political parties to concentrate their campaign efforts on us. Electorally volatile and difficult to predict, Britain’s political parties are happy to dismiss us and focus their efforts on the grey vote, where returns are higher and also more likely. To offer some context, in the 2015 General Election only 43% of those aged between 18-24 turned out, compared to 78% of those over the age of 65.

To improve our political favourability and ultimately encourage political parties to provide young people with greater fortune, we must increase our stake in the political system. We must consistently increase our proportion of the overall electoral turnout across all elections, and remind our elected representatives that we too are able to influence their position in power.

Increasing our stake in a democracy is relatively straightforward. Quite simply, it means more of us ‘turning out’ to vote. Traditionally voting has involved interrupting daily routines with a trip to the polling station, or alternatively arranging for a postal vote to be sent. However since the digital revolution, in an age of instant gratification at the press of a button, young people see this is as out-dated, bureaucratic and inconvenient.

It’s time for politics to fast-forward to the present and have online voting introduced. In the UK, 38 million people are on Facebook, 15 million are on Twitter, and 4.5 million use online dating sites. Many of these are young people. We have a tech literate nation, but the political establishment is choosing to ignore this in favour of the status quo. Instead of democracy becoming more accessible, apathy reigns supreme.

It is in the absolute interest of all young people to show solidarity and back the campaign for online voting. As an age demographic, Government negligence towards us is indiscriminate. We could all be better off than we are now.  The solution is to increase our electoral strength by making voting more accessible for all. Through digital empowerment the availability of online voting will improve the democratic participation of young people and capture the Government’s attention, resulting in us becoming a key political priority.

Joe Carton is a History graduate from Durham University currently working as a Corporate and Public Affairs Consultant for Cohn & Wolfe.

Do you think the UK should introduce an online voting option for elections?  Take a moment to sign and share our e-petition.

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