Opinion: A manifesto for young people

Young people are neglected by politics, and understandably so. With less than half of 18-24 year olds voting at the last election, few campaign strategists would advocate making serious commitments with relatively few votes up for grabs.

There has therefore been a temptation for all parties, the Liberal Democrats included, to save their eye catching commitments for older voters. Pensioners have both a high turnout and are generally more numerous than the young in the first place, are therefore rewarded with expensive policies such as the triple lock on pensions and free bus passes.

Nevertheless, to neglect younger voters would be a mistake, if for no other reason than we won’t be young forever. With the rest of our lives to vote, but also crucially to volunteer as activists, there is a lot at stake. Is it preferable to ignore us and hope to win us over from another party in later years, or to do something to earn our support in the present? And who knows, in presenting compelling, believable offers to young people, which take into account their views, then just maybe more will see the point in voting now.

And you know what? Our Liberal Democrat manifesto does just that.

Over the last couple of years the party has given Liberal Youth the chance to put forward our ideas and views into the manifesto process. The manifesto team and Federal Policy Committee have been genuinely willing to listen and the impact of this on the final document is significant.

Last Autumn, Liberal Youth held a consultation with our members, on what areas of policy matter to them and what suggestions they had for the manifesto. Two very specific policies stood out, better support with Mental Health in Schools and Universities, and reforms to so called unpaid internships. With this in mind, Liberal Youth put forward amendments on these subjects at the parties Spring Conference in Liverpool which were passed unanimously. Once passed, the Federal Policy Committee agreed to add these to the manifesto, proving beyond doubt that, through Liberal Youth, young members can make a real difference to party policy.

Furthermore, the manifesto aims to deliver opportunity for young people. Policies such as more apprenticeships, protected funding for further education and the discounted bus pass to enable young people to access these opportunities are all components of this. Altogether, a world away from the other main parties who, Labour included, are eyeing up benefits for under 24s as targets for cuts.

There is also a recognition that while the number of disadvantaged young people attending university is on the rise (despite the dire predictions made of the reforms to tuition fees), there is perhaps an argument that there needs to be more support for students with the cost of living. The review we’ve promised to higher education funding has therefore been expanded to look at this aspect, building also on the recognition of the barriers facing potential postgraduates.

However, the issue I believe that will most define the lives of my generation in the coming decades, is how we tackle the housing crisis. Rising rents and five figure deposits are leading young people to live at home longer, unable to take up every opportunity to move forwards with living their lives, while those who are able to move out feel the squeeze on their standard of living. A rising proportion of young people are now convinced they may never be able to get on the housing ladder.

The manifesto has therefore dedicated an entire chapter to housing. The headline commitment to be building 300,000 energy efficient homes a year by 2020, along with a big push for the rent-to-own model is perhaps the most radical goal of the manifesto. This is augmented by other measures which support young people including cracking down on rogue landlords and loans to help pay the initial deposit for renting. All told this would amount to a desperately needed complete transformation of the housing market.

But let’s not for a moment patronise young people by assuming we all care about the same handful of issues. Young people can be students, apprentices, workers, graduates, married couples and single parents. We are as interested and affected by the whole range of policy areas the manifesto covers as any other age group, be it drug reform, the environment or our nation’s security.

Thankfully, I am very proud of the whole programme for government we are proposing in our manifesto and I consider myself privileged to be in a party where my voice as a young person is heard. There are a lot of progressive, internationalist and compassionate young people out there. They may not know it yet, but with this manifesto, they can only be Liberal Democrats.

* Ryan Mercer is Liberal Youth's Policy Officer

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21 Comments

  • Matthew Huntbach 17th Apr '15 - 10:36am


    Rising rents and five figure deposits are leading young people to live at home longer, unable to take up every opportunity to move forwards with living their lives

    What would really help are measures which would discourage people from holding on to housing they do not need as an “investment”. Do you have the courage to call for higher inheritance tax? That would be one of the most helpful things for young people. Age spans these days mean direct inheritance tends to be from the very old to the old. Even if some dribbles down to the young, obviously it’s only those young who manage to have wealthy grandparents and great-grandparents, and it means even they are dependent on the whims of their elders, and can be cut out if they do anything those elders disapprove of.

    It strikes me as crazy that we have parents complaining about their adult children being unable to afford homes of their own, and so being forced to stay living with them, and yet one of the prime reasons for this is that those same parent want to hang on to their houses untaxed in order to be able to pass the houses on in inheritance. It strikes me as crazy that we have system where when people are most in need of big houses, that is when they have children growing up with them, they are denied them due to high prices, and then inheritance means big houses go to people who no longer have that child-rearing need for them.

    However, the emotive case for low or no inheritance tax is always being pushed – UKIP have made it one of the prime points in their manifesto, for example – and there doesn’t seem to be anyone much putting the other side.

    Higher inheritance and property taxes can allow for lower income tax and VAT. Isn’t it crazy to tax young people on their income and spending, so giving them little left to try and buy housing, and yet once you have housing that’s it, you have made it, life is easy? In the old days, property taxes were much higher through the rating system. It was accepted that anyone wealthy enough to live in a big house should have the duty to use some of that wealth productively to pay the rates. The principle of land taxation was that if you owned land you had the right to use it, but that right went with the responsibility to use it productively.

    This was the sort of thing that I used to campaign on when I was a Young Liberal. Do Liberal Youth know or care about such things these days? I haven’t changed – my belief that freedom to have decent housing when one most needs it should be opened up in these ways is as strong now as it was 30 years ago.

  • Don’t have time to comment on the rest of the article yet, but…

    The Help to Rent proposal is appalling. It’s just laughable. It’s age discriminatory, and arguably targets the people that need the least help acquiring a deposit. If you’re living at home and can’t save up enough for a deposit, then I doubt you’ll be able to afford £700 per month in rent. Offering them loan placing them in more debt is absurd.

    Those most in need of assistance will be working renters of any age, who need to move from one rental property to another (through choice or eviction). You need two deposits when moving – the one your current landlord holds, and one to obtain another property – which can be hugely difficult when already paying thousands in rent, council tax and bills.

  • Reading your article Ryan it seems that you think everything is pretty rosy in The Liberal Democrat garden when it comes to young people. You say you feel privileged to be in a party where your voice as a young person is heard.

    I like your penultimate paragraph about not patronising young people especially your recognition that – “Young people can be students, apprentices, workers, graduates, married couples and single parents”. You might also have wanted to add that young people can be successful business people, people with disabiities, concert pianists, failures at school, unemployed or underemployed, in the armed forces, brilliant artists or faked poets. They might even be on the verge of graduating from a Young Offenders’ Institution to an adult prison or waiting in line at their local foodbank Although I recognise there is a word limit on LDV articles.

    I am too old to be able to offer much of an informed view on your perspective but I hope I am allowed to ask you a question? Why do you think it is that the opinion polls for the last four or five years indicate that Liberal Democrats are not very popular with 90% of young people ?

  • Martin Walker 17th Apr '15 - 5:38pm

    From reading this article it is clear that more is being done in terms of helping young people to make the best start in life, this regards the sections on providing more funding to education. With this funding young people will have a better chance at succeeded in life and help with finding employment. This in term will help to reduce the amount spent on young people who require benefits.

    With regards to the section relating to mental health in schools and univerities, I think this is good as we all know it can be hard to deal with mental health in any situation but it can be made harder if you are also under the stress of studying so being able to offer support will help students to cope with their mental health.

    The whole article has some good points that could help young people at lot to create the best life for themselves but we must rememeber that some of the issues mentioned don’t just affect young people like can affect any age

  • Sara Scarlett 18th Apr '15 - 8:44am

    “Why do you think it is that the opinion polls for the last four or five years indicate that Liberal Democrats are not very popular with 90% of young people ?”

    I could offer one suggestion – http://www.economist.com/news/britain/21578666-britains-youth-are-not-just-more-liberal-their-elders-they-are-also-more-liberal-any

    Young people are more Liberal (and anti-politics) than ever before. Maybe a good question for the LibDems would be this: ‘Why do so many young people who indentfy as ‘Liberal’ not see the LibDems as their natural home?’

  • Philip Thomas 18th Apr '15 - 9:00am

    The rent (to the extent you can’t pay it) is paid for by housing benefit, but housing benefit doesn’t pay the deposit. I work for a homelessness charity and lack of deposits is a big barrier to obtaining private rented accommodation- some other charities offer loans but they are very small-scale and piecemeal.

    I agree about the age discrimination but you can’t have everything.
    As for the disillusionment of youth, well we were all young once… perhaps they’ll come around as I did.

  • suzanne fletcher 18th Apr '15 - 3:02pm

    is there somewhere, all in one place that I can see policies likely to be most relevant to young people ? if not can youo do one please ?

  • John Tilley “Why do you think it is that the opinion polls for the last four or five years indicate that Liberal Democrats are not very popular with 90% of young people ?”

    Because people like you have been banging on about the betrayal of coalition, John. Throw enough mud and dome of it sticks.

  • I followed the link to The Economist article which I read and I recall reading it the first time it was published in 2013.
    It includes the following —
    “…. Freedom Forum, an annual convention for young libertarians, has tripled in size since its launch in 2011;
    Mark Littlewood of the Institute of Economic Affairs, …. …confidently predicts the emergence of a mass libertarian movement.”

    The Economist article has a title which refers to “Generation Boris”. Since it was published the Boris in question has declined markedly in popularity, especially amongst young voters (see last year’s London borough election results and thisnyear’s opinion polls in London).

    I don’t think ‘Libertarian’ views of the sort espoused by The Tea Party in the USA are wildly popular in this country or offer any help in understanding why Liberal Democrats are unpopular with 90% of young people.

    Mark Littlewood may think he is “Down with the kids” but all the evidence of voting patterns seems to be in another direction.

  • Tabman

    Entertaining though it might be to suggest that 90% of voters under the age of 25 are influenced by the comments I make in LDV nobody in their right mind would seriously suggest it.
    I would love to think that all those voters born in the first few years of the 1990s are hanging on my every word for guidance on how to vote but I guess that even you know that they are not.

    You revealed recently that you joined the party 30 years ago, which I guess may indicate that you are in your mid 40s or older so you are possibly no better informed on this subject than I am.
    Nevertheless, it would be interesting to learn why you really think that 90% of voters under 25 are not even considering voting for our party in this election.
    We need to rebuild the party after 8th May and your serious suggestions as to how to do that might be helpful.

  • First, I think Matthew has hit the nail on the head, our broken approach to housing as a country is a problem that young (myself, just about included) need to be tackling. We live in a mad world where many people my age live in overcrowded flats of 3 people plus, whilst their parents live in 2 to 3 bedroom houses, alone. We need to be brave and face this problem, we cannot keep making homeowners rich at the sake of everyone else because we have too few houses and too many people living longer. I do not blame people for living longer, but I do accept it means we need to change our approach to things.

    As for why my generation and below is not voting for the Lib Dems, well, Sara’s link to that oh so wonderful publication that loves to think it represents my generation aside, it is in my experience rather complicated and comes down to a range of issues:

    – many do not vote period (certain interest groups worked very hard to disenfranchise people from the system and now we are as a society are taking the ‘rewards’. I know a politics graduate who is not intending to vote, I discussed it with him and worked very hard to suggest it was not a wise idea, but even he was completely taken by ‘politics is evil and they are all the same, so just let them do it approach’ that is taking root throughout Europe and the USA.)

    – politics does not market itself well to young people. Many young people do consider it rather ‘boring’ and our politicans uninspired. The Lib dem often come off as slightly nicer, but still rather ‘weird’ and boring people, thus why we do lose our to people such as Russell Brand. Especially as centralism is particularly uninspiring; well, at the least in the way we are currently marketing it.

    – the clegg factor. Clegg did inspire many young people last time, which meant when he did not live up their expectations, they took the blow hard. Especially as many had been told as corrupt politics is, but saw clegg as an idealistic alternative. To take what was in their mind a real big betrayal in their first ever election (for many) was a big thing, which they are still hurting over.

    – Many have been convinced by articles and other mainstream narratives, such as the one linked to, that they are neo-conservatives. I got a group of young aspiring barristers (flaws in the sample accepted) to complete an online test to see which party’s polities they most identified with, and they were horrified to find that not one of them was a conservative. Most were Labour or the SNP, with a few Lib Dems.

    – This leads on to my next point: we need to take back the left-wing. Most people in this country may think they are right wing, but the truth is that we are moderately left-wing country; however, the Lib Dems at the top have spent so long taking back ‘Liberalism’ (well, an Oxford Union, young people from Surrey view of Liberalism, anyway) that they have forgotten to set down the narrative for our progress left-wing approach to politics that actually appeals to people. Labour can be critisiced for losing the information battle on what the left-wing is, as well. This has allowed the Ring-wing to set the narrative for what the left-wing is, and they of course have set one that does appeal to people. In this front, we have the worst of all worlds, not being seen as left-wing by many, and those who do still see us as left-wing, do not know the left-wing stands for anymore, but do know they do not like it.

    There are many other problems, as well, but the core is that whilst our policies and actions would appeal to many young people, our marketing at the top is giving off the wrong message that is failing to counter the messages of our enemies about us and the negative emotions still left over from the last election.

  • Matthew Huntbach 19th Apr '15 - 4:11pm

    Liberal Al

    the Lib Dems at the top have spent so long taking back ‘Liberalism’ (well, an Oxford Union, young people from Surrey view of Liberalism, anyway)

    Sorry, but in what I am saying, I am very much thinking of the young people of Surrey, and Sussex where I grew up, and other places where high house prices hit particularly hard. I grew up in Sussex, and I assure you, that if you think all young people in places like Surrey and Sussex and right-wing types with wealthy parents, you are wrong, wrong, wrong.

    The electoral system silences the poor of the south, making it look like everyone is the sort of rich person that the Tories are all about. Sure, there are more rich people in the south, but there are plenty of poor people as well. But the poor people have been squeezed out of politics in the south, because there wasn’t the sort of industry to develop a Labour culture, because the distortion which led to few left politicians being elected in the south meant left politics dwindled away, because some poor people will still vote for the party of the rich because they are persuaded by small-c social conservative arguments, because the right has been active with its dual approach: if you can’t get then to vote right then persuade them not to vote at all because “all politics is bad”, because what there is of the parties of the left in the south tends to get taken over by trendy types from posh backgrounds who are more into striking a pose than doing anything for the poor, because the press pushes the idea that the south is all rich people, because jobs for the poor in the south tend to be service type jobs which develop a culture of deference, because …

    Oh, well, do you get my point?

  • Philip Thomas 19th Apr '15 - 4:38pm

    I am 32, and while I will freely confess to having a posh background (the obvious lack of need for white male Old Etonians in politics is one reason why I don’t want to run for office), I am in no way trendy and I really am trying to do something for the poor. Several things actually, but right now I’m trying to stop a regime coming into power which would make the last 5 years look like a pleasant dream.
    The solution to the political problem in the South is electoral reform, and I need hardly remind you that we won’t get that from the Tories.

  • Liberal Al 19th Apr ’15 – 1:12pm

    Interesting comments, Al and also interesting responses from Matthew and from Philip.

    I think there is general agreement with Al’s point that – “..whilst our policies and actions would appeal to many young people, our marketing at the top is giving off the wrong message that is failing to counter the messages of our enemies about us and the negative emotions still left over from the last election.”

    I think there are people (including some that I reckon will be MPs next month) who recognise the need for change. Signing up and enthusing significantly large numbers of people under the age of 25 should be a top priority for the party after the election, as well as during the next couple of weeks.

  • Stephen Hesketh 19th Apr '15 - 6:01pm

    Tabman 18th Apr ’15 – 3:39pm

    Tabby, setting aside John Tilley once again having a much clearer view of Liberal Democracy than your frequently ‘tail wagging the dog’ version of it, I have over recent months been pleasantly surprised by several young people holding values highly compatible with preamble Liberalism. The fact that a centrist Clegg and the militant economic corporationists to his right have failed to attract them is actually a credit to them and their generation.

    The fact that we have failed to attract them to our cause is a matter of sadness and great concern for the future of our party and its mission.

    It is absolutely vital that we present entirely sensible radical egalitarian, green and internationalist views if we are to attract them to our cause. If they (or others) wish to support the status quo other options are certainly available.

  • Thank you to everyone for your responses and I agree with them all.

    @Matthew, sorry, I was more than a little unfair on Surrey with that Comment. I did not expect anyone to take it literally. To clarify, I agree whole-heartily with everything you say. I have lived in the south and worked here, helping people with things such as benefit claims, long enough to know the all too unfortunate truth of your words.

    My very unfair jab was not actually targeted at people from Surrey (or even the South East) in general, but at a particular class of people, who disproportionately influence Westminster politics. My way of classing that group was not meant to be too serious or scientific, but you are right, I was wrong to pick on Surrey. I just happened to have in my mind someone I know who exemplifies this class of people for me and just happens to be from Surrey. Of course, a joke is not too great if I am the only one who gets it.

  • Peter Watson 19th Apr '15 - 9:55pm

    @Liberal Al “My very unfair jab was not actually targeted at people from Surrey (or even the South East) in general, but at a particular class of people, who disproportionately influence Westminster politics.”
    Perhaps you mean those who manage to pronounce “Surrey” in a single syllable, something I was once told is the sign of a truly posh person.

  • Peter Watson
    Since the age of 7 when we moved south from Manchester my postal address has been Surrey.

    More than fifty years later, I still say “grass” instead of “grarse” and “pass” instead of “parse”.
    I do not belong to the “clarse” of people you and I know are terribly posh.
    When necessary I can speak “Sarf London” but With that accent is in any way posh. 🙂

    What Matthew says about the double whammy of being poor but surrounded by the rich or the very well-off is very true. It is especially true when it comes to housing. I thought this was bad enough when I was young but it has gotmsteadily

  • Apologies – fat finger on touch screen error –
    That last comment should have ended –
    It has got steadily worse. I would recommend any young person on a moderate income or less to get as far away from London and the South East as possible if you want to have a decent home in the future.

  • @John: Haha, (or should it be HaR-HaR), being from the midlands, I too still say ‘grass’, ‘glass’… etc. If anyone in the South East decides to make light of your ‘northern’ accent (despite this not being just a northern thing), gently remind them that the long A vowel finds its humble beginnings in the East End of London and the East London Docks. Far from being a sign of high-society, it was until about the 19th century considered pronunciation of Dock workers and Cabbies.

    Before anyone who says it this way jumps on me, I should note I actually do think the long A vowel sounds nicer than the flat A vowel that is more associated with my own accent. I just find it amusing when people consider themselves ‘posh’ for using it, especially in light of their apparent lack of knowledge about from where it originated.

  • @Liberal Al do you have any further reading on accent derivations? I’ve heard that RP is a creation of the railway age, and that before it the regional landed gentry sounded like their tenants.

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