The budget was an insult to our intelligence. Does the government really think young people can be bought off with a railcard?
From Margaret Thatcher’s Iron Lady to Theresa May the “bloody difficult woman”, the Tories have never seemed over-burdened by a sense of empathy. Nor does their membership appear to have an average age of under 65 (I jest – the official figure is 72). So it didn’t come of much of a surprise to see that their concessions to the youth vote in last week’s budget speech looked like little more of an afterthought. What did come as somewhat of shock though, was just how stupid they clearly think we are.
Hands up if one third off rail fares is going to solve all your problems? I didn’t think so. And yet, extending the upper age limit on the Young Person’s Rail Card from 25 to 30 was the government’s big reveal for young people in this budget. Don’t get me wrong; it’s nice.
You can only use the discount outside of peak hours and it can’t be applied to travelcards though. That means most people aren’t going to be able to use it for getting to and from work. Which is the biggest expense when it comes to travel for the majority of us, but hey-ho. 25 onward is typically when your coupled-up friends start tying the knot, so you’ve got five years of discounted schleps to and from various stately homes and wildly inaccessible country hotels to look forward to, at least.
So, five extra years of cheap(er) travel is officially a Nice Thing. So cheers Theresa. Or Phillip, I should say, since the Chancellor we have to blame – I mean thank- for the budget.
What’s so infuriating about it though, is that it (barely) addresses the symptoms, not the cause, of society’s ills. Instead of making it slightly easier for people in their late twenties and early thirties to scrape by, what the government should be doing is getting to the root of why people in this age group are still struggling. After all, the Young Person’s Rail Card used to be capped at 25 for a reason. That’s around the age people were settling into a career and a home and judged less in need of help.
After all, in 1991, nearly two thirds (67%) of 25-34-year-olds were homeowners. By 2016, that number had fallen by nearly half, to just 36%. Nowadays, the only movement in wages is when they yo-yo between stagnation and decline. (Following the budget, the IFS predicted average earnings will have fallen by £1,400 by 2021). Meanwhile the number of people in part time employment is rising and the gig economy is positively booming, as young people struggle to get a foot on the career ladder, let alone the property ladder.
If the government cared about us, then, the budget would have gone some way to addressing the reasons why young people have less money now than they did in the past, rather than chucking a £19 railcard that you can get for free by opening a bank account us.
This is a continuation of the kind of duck-and-cover policy making we saw in the 2014 autumn statement. That was when then Chancellor George Osborne announced provision in the budget for £10,000 loans to under 30’s (since increased to under 60’s) wishing to study for a master’s degree. Instead of using the budget to address rising youth unemployment, the Tories thought they could distract us by keeping us busy for another year or two. It’s sticking plaster policy at its very finest.
The other stand-out item in the budget for young people is the scrapping of stamp duty on houses under £300,000. Applying to first time buyers only, again, it’s a Nice Thing. However, the average property value in the UK in September was already £226,67 (£243,945 when considering England alone). In the south east it was £324,465, with that figure rising to £483,568 in London. Both of those sums are well over £300,000 limit for avoiding stamp duty. And we can’t afford mortgages anyway (see those statistics on home ownership among 25-34-olds above).
I refuse believe the powers that be are stupid enough to think that they’re actually helping young people with either of these proposals. So the only reasonable conclusion is they think we’re stupid enough to fall for it. I can’t think of any greater insult to our intelligence than that.