Finally the political parties have laid out their manifestos. It’s difficult to know what to make of them. The Green Party includes many progressive policies for young people, from lowering the voting age to increasing the age of criminal responsibility and establishing a statutory responsibility to keep young people out of prison wherever possible. They also include the Holy Grail: a fully funded youth service including youth councils and youth clubs. Alas they are unlikely to wield enough influence in a coalition to make this a reality.
In the Conservative manifesto the focus is more on early years. Where young people are mentioned the language is noticeably negative, certainly not aimed at young people as voters, and couched in terms of “it’s not fair on the taxpayer that…” as a reason for cuts.
The Lib Dems have focused on housing (‘Help to Rent’ and ‘Rent to Own’), apprenticeships, and, slightly randomly, cheaper bus passes. Labour at least acknowledge young people as part of the electorate and have produced a Young People’s Manifesto, albeit mostly comprising the same policies as in their main manifesto on apprenticeships and reducing tuition fees. I had to search the UKIP manifesto just to find a reference to young people.
What is missing from all these is a vision for young people. None of them have thought it necessary to produce a coherent plan detailing the policies and mechanisms to help support and develop our young people into the kind of responsible, engaged citizens we need them to be. There continues to be huge challenges for young people as our economy emerges haltingly from recession. The uncertainties over employment, housing, debt, skills mean that young people need all the support they can get. Isolated policies are not enough.
A long term plan would also form part of an acknowledgment that young people have been disproportionately impacted by cuts and they need particular support (and resource) to make up for this lost ground. Amidst the plethora of statistics in the run up to the election, youth unemployment is still double that of adults and has not recovered its pre 2008 levels.
In a sense this is no surprise. For me, this election campaign has been marked by the artificial. It started with highly personal attacks – as if to divert us away from the key issues we want to change. It has progressed with new policy announcements conjured out of nowhere, seeking to shore up a weakness identified in a focus group or to placate a negative response in a poll rating. It seems that politicians are willing to make policy pledges entirely based on sweetening the deal for a particular section of the electorate or a key marginal so long as it gets them into No.10 or a seat at the cabinet table.
Young people are much more likely to vote on specific issues rather than affinity with a party. With what’s on offer here, is it any wonder?