THE BLOG

Why The Young, And Young At Heart, Are Voting Labour

07/06/2017 13:03

Despite earlier media rhetoric about Corbyn taking politics back to the 70s, Labour seems to have emerged as the vote for hope and change.

Barack Obama said that progress doesn't follow a straight line but that it zigs and zags. Beyond his charm and youthful charisma, Barack Obama's campaign of hope wasn't as much of a deviation from the path trodden by his predecessor as many hoped. The Labour leader has none of the media charm and immediate appeal of Barack Obama. But he has a commitment to principles of human rights and human welfare, and a manifesto that applies these pragmatically. Corbyn is the zag to May's zig.

One, a staunch and steely conservative, the other, as a friend of mine put it, "a hippy in a suit". Few 'hippies' are as gritty and enduring. Despite accusations of sympathising with violent organisations, the media has failed to dig up any evidence of him ever endorsing violence in any form. When pressed in the most recent BBC debate on whether he would use nuclear weapons if required, he refused to say that he would, apparently showing himself more willing to concede to a political death than to condone the destruction of human life.

The Labour manifesto has a number of proposals that stand out as beacons of optimism, but few more so than the pledge to cut student tuition fees. Politics is a personal thing, and at the time of the 2010 student protests over the tuition fee increase, I saw little connection between the tuition fees debate and my role as director of a student mental health charity. But the evidence is perhaps beginning to point towards a link between the rise in tuition fees and student suicides.

More broadly, we know that there is an association between financial stress, debt and suicide. Deaths by suicide increased following the 2008 recession, particularly amongst young men, with financial struggles cited as being an important contributor. Until recently, we have been unable to identify any link between the rise in tuition fees and student mental health, other than signs that demand for counselling services has increased, which could be explained by there being less stigma associated with accessing support. But we now have some harder data.

Based on the latest figures from 2014 and 2015, UK student suicides have increased considerably since tuition fees were raised to £9000 per year in 2012. In 2014, they were at their highest point in at least 10 years. Analysis by Dr Raymond Kwok of Hong Kong University's Centre for Suicide Research and Prevention indicates that the trend in increasing student suicides is statistically significant even after accounting for the change in student numbers.

The one region that has not seen an increase in student suicides is Scotland. Unlike the rest of the UK, students in Scotland do not pay any tuition fees. Rates of student suicide in England & Wales and Northern Ireland were higher in 2015 than any time in the previous decade, but in Scotland, they were at their second lowest (and possibly the lowest after adjusting for student numbers). In 2015, Scotland had the lowest student suicide rate of all of the UK.

Does this prove that the rise in tuition fees increased the rate of student suicides? Not necessarily; other factors may explain the rise. But it seems hard to dispute the claim that putting students in debt places a psychological burden on them. Even if many students will never have to repay their student loans, the prospect of leaving university with debts averaging 44,000 is unpleasant. A longitudinal study of 454 British undergraduate students published in 2016 concluded, "Financial difficulties appear to lead to poor mental health in students with the possibility of a vicious cycle occurring."

Like many, I let down my generation and those following me into university by not fighting more vigorously against the rise in tuition fees. But we have a chance of reverse this tomorrow. It won't solve all the challenges that face young people, and it might not solve problems of poor mental health and suicide on campuses, but it's cause for hope, and that's something both the young and less young must hold onto.

Comments

CONVERSATIONS