Last week's Autumn Statement marked a significant symbolic moment in the build-up to the 2015 General Election and provided the current coalition government with an excellent opportunity to pitch themselves to the electorate ahead of next May's proceedings. While #AutumnStatement was inevitably one of the UK's top trending topics on the day of its announcement, it was conspicuously absent from my own timeline with the events of this week's Apprentice, the premiership's mid-week fixtures and the regular kind of frivolous chatter that makes twitter so wonderful instead taking precedence.
The most likely reason for the Autumn Statements absence from my timeline was that most of the people I follow, like myself, are under the age of 25. While one could potentially chalk up the absence of budget related tweets as being typical of the self-involvement and immaturity that is supposedly a common characteristic of the Millennial generation, politics and political discussion is by no means a stranger to my Twitter timeline. The Oscar Pistorious trial and events in Ferguson, are two examples of events that provoked fervent discussion and debate amongst young people and offer some proof that millennials are no more exceptionally apolitical than the generations that have preceded us.
The real reason why George Osbourne's Autumn Statement has received little to no interest from young people is because there is little in the statement's changes that will have any significant effect on the lives of most people under the age of thirty. The Autumn statement is a reflection of the fact that British politics has systematically and repeatedly ignored the young for a number of years now, despite the fact that it is the young generation that arguably requires the attention of the government more than any other.
A recent study by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation on poverty and social exclusion in the UK, which highlighted the bleak outlook for many young people in the UK, found that the poverty rate for those aged between 16 and 25 stood at around 31.5% in 2013, a level of poverty that was close to the highest on record for working age adults and the highest level of poverty for any age group in the UK.
This Autumn Statement, as the last one before May's general election, presented the government with an excellent opportunity to show their dedication to addressing the bleak economic outlook for those aged between 18 to 25, but it was an opportunity which they unfortunately passed up. Instead of acknowledging the fact that more and more Britons have been finding themselves in working poverty, the government instead chose to make self-congratulatory statements about the past year's economic growth; economic growth that in most cases has not trickled its way down to the country's poorest and youngest workers.
The government were also quick to congratulate themselves on reducing unemployment to almost pre-recession levels, although the reality about the contemporary job market in the UK is much less rosy, with the aforementioned Rowntree study also finding that around three fifths of the people who moved from unemployment to work in the past year are being paid below the minimum wage. Announcing a significant hike in the minimum wage or legislation aimed at curbing zero hour contracts would have almost certainly helped to tweak the interest of potential voters in my age bracket, but such discussion was unfortunately completely absent.
Addressing the UK's astronomically high cost of housing in the UK, would also have provided an excellent way of appealing to younger voters. Recent figures from the EU agency Eurofound have found that one in four Britons between the age of 18 and 29 now lives with their parents, the highest level since records began in 1996 and something that is almost certainly because so many young people cannot afford to move out of their parental homes. While the reforms to Stamp Duty are certainly a positive and will alleviate some of the financial pressure of purchasing a home for the majority of house buyers, the fact is that in a market in which the average age of first time buyers is 36 it is no wonder why most people in their 20s were uninterested in changes to Stamp Duty. One could also argue that for those of us currently in our twenties owning a home will become more of an unrealistic prospect, something reflected in the fact the last decade has seen the rate of home ownership in this country fall dramatically with the charity Generation Rent predicting that renters could outnumber homeowners in the UK by 2021. The prevalence of renting is particularly disconcerting given that the cost of renting has reached record highs, with rents rising faster than the rate of inflation and at a time in which incomes are not even close to catching up. Not only would announcing plans to encourage significant construction of affordable housing or an introduction of rent controls have been more likely to entice younger voters, but they would have also been much more effective than the Stamp Duty reforms in addressing the root causes of our current housing problems.
There was a small reprieve for younger voters tucked into the statement amidst the more headline grabbing announcements, with the government While this move will no doubt improve access to postgraduate education from those from less wealthy backgrounds, there is a good chance that such incentives will be of limited attractiveness to future graduates, given hikes to tuition fees will mean that the majority of undergraduates will have completed their first degrees having already accrued at least £27,000 worth of debt.
The past week has seen a few attempts from the major parties to try and address youth engagement with politics; Labour have recently announced plans to lower the voting age to 16 if they come into power and the Lib Dems secured £10million from the Cabinet Office to help encourage registration of student voters. While such policies may very well yield positive results in addressing the meagre engagement of young people with the democratic progress, it remains to be seen whether such plans are indicative of a genuine desire to address the issues facing the young, or simply hollow incentives aimed at scraping as many extra votes as possible in the run up to what is set to be an incredibly tightly contested general election.