Students mock Nick Clegg. Photo: Getty/Peter Macdiarmid
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Sheffield's students could depose Nick Clegg – they are alert to the danger of losing their votes

Because of the new system, there is a risk that students will turn up to vote on 7 May, but won't be registered.

It will be harder for young people to vote in this general election than the last. The switch to Individual Electoral Registration threatens to result in a deeply unedifying spectacle: thousands of students going to polling stations, only to be told that they are not registered to vote.

It is often said that young people do not deserve sympathy if they cannot be bothered to vote. But that is no reason to put up a further obstacle to voting. However inadvertently, that is what IES, which prevents students from being registered in blocks or automatically by their institutions, has become.

The upshot is depressing. In 2010, 22 per cent of students were not registered to vote; that number threatens to be significantly greater at this election. That means that the political generation gap – over 65s were 23 per cent more likely to vote than those aged 18-24 at the last election – could increase at the next election. Add in an ageing population too, and it means that young people will be even easier to ignore.

One university is quietly challenging such fatalism. While most universities have been lamentably slow in responding to the change in the voter registration system, Sheffield University has been a welcome exception. Last September, when students were enrolling online for a new year or the start of their degrees, they were given the opportunity to be included on the electoral register. 65 per cent of Sheffield University students opted in: a powerful antidote to the notion that young people do not care about politics.

Still, a problem remained. To register to vote, Sheffield University students needed to enter their national insurance numbers. Almost two-thirds did not know or could not find theirs. As of November, just 24 per cent of students were registered to vote.

Belatedly the government has reacted to the derisory rates of voter registration among young people. It has committed an additional £10m to help local authorities and national organisations boost the number of people registering to vote. In December, the Cabinet Office announced a relaxation of guidelines for Electoral Registration Offices, making it easier for them to verify applications. Officials in Sheffield can now verify students’ registrations even without their national insurance numbers.

The effect has been dramatic. In December and January, 7,000 students at Sheffield University, who had tried to register last October but had not entered their national insurance details, were added to the electoral roll. Around two-thirds of students today are on the electoral roll. In Broomhill, a student-heavy ward in Sheffield Central constituency, the number of registered voters has swelled by around 400 from a year ago, when Household Electoral Registration was still being used. If managed properly the switch in the voter registration system need not reduce student turnout.

Unfortunately no other universities have followed Sheffield’s lead in making it as easy for students to register. All Sheffield Hallam have done, for example, is provide the Electoral Registration Office with a list of students enrolled to the university. The difference in approach will result in many Hallam students feeling disenfranchised come May. A student at Sheffield Hallam is less than half as likely to be registered to vote as one at Sheffield University.

While Sheffield University offers a model for other institutions to follow it is too late for them to do so before the next election. The best that most other universities can do now is work with local authorities to mitigate the damage in student registration numbers. But Sheffield University offers a glimpse of what the political power of students could be. In Sheffield Hallam 17.3 per cent of the electorate are students, the vast majority from Sheffield University. A higher student turnout there could yet mean a P45 for Nick Clegg.

Tim Wigmore is a contributing writer to the New Statesman and the author of Second XI: Cricket In Its Outposts.

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Gender pay gap: women do not choose to be paid less than men

Care work isn’t going anywhere – and it’s about time we recognised which half of the population is doing it, unpaid.

Is it just me, or does Mansplain The Pay Gap Day get earlier every year? It’s not even November and already men up and down the land are hard at work responding to the latest so-called “research” suggesting that women suffer discrimination when it comes to promotions and pay. 

Poor men. It must be a thankless task, having to do this year in, year out, while women continue to feel hard done to on the basis of entirely misleading statistics. Yes, women may earn an average of 18 per cent less than men. Yes, male managers may be 40 per cent more likely than female managers to be promoted. Yes, the difference in earnings between men and women may balloon once children are born. But let’s be honest, this isn’t about discrimination. It’s all about choice.

Listen, for instance, to Mark Littlewood, director general of the Institute of Economic Affairs:

“When people make the decision to go part time, either for familial reasons or to gain a better work-life balance, this can impact further career opportunities but it is a choice made by the individual - men and women alike.”

Women can hardly expect to be earning the same as men if we’re not putting in the same number of hours, can we? As Tory MP Philip Davies has said: “feminist zealots really do want women to have their cake and eat it.” Since we’re far more likely than men to work part-time and/or to take time off to care for others, it makes perfect sense for us to be earning less.

After all, it’s not as though the decisions we make are influenced by anything other than innate individual preferences, arising from deep within our pink, fluffy brains. And it’s not as though the tasks we are doing outside of the traditional workplace have any broader social, cultural or economic value whatsoever.

To listen to the likes of Littlewood and Davies, you’d think that the feminist argument regarding equal pay started and ended with “horrible men are paying us less to do the same jobs because they’re mean”. I mean, I think it’s clear that many of them are doing exactly that, but as others have been saying, repeatedly, it’s a bit more complicated than that. The thing our poor mansplainers tend to miss is that there is a problem in how we are defining work that is economically valuable in the first place. Women will never gain equal pay as long as value is ascribed in accordance with a view of the world which sees men as the default humans.

As Katrine Marçal puts it in Who Cooked Adam Smith’s Dinner?, “in the same way that there is a ‘second sex’, there is a ‘second economy’”:

“The work that is traditionally carried out by men is what counts. It defines the economic world view. Women’s work is ‘the other’. Everything that he doesn’t do but that he is dependent on so he can do what he does.”

By which Marçal means cooking, cleaning, nursing, caring – the domestic tasks which used to be referred to as “housework” before we decided that was sexist. Terms such as “housework” belong to an era when women were forced to do all the domestic tasks by evil men who told them it was their principal role in life. It’s not like that now, at least not as far as our mansplaining economists are concerned. Nowadays when women do all the domestic tasks it’s because they’ve chosen “to gain a better work-life balance.” Honestly. We can’t get enough of those unpaid hours spent in immaculate homes with smiling, clean, obedient children and healthy, Werther’s Original-style elderly relatives. It’s not as though we’re up to our elbows in the same old shit as before. Thanks to the great gods Empowerment and Choice, those turds have been polished out of existence. And it’s not as though reproductive coercion, male violence, class, geographic location, social conditioning or cultural pressures continue to influence our empowered choices in any way whatsoever. We make all our decisions in a vacuum (a Dyson, naturally).

Sadly, I think this is what many men genuinely believe. It’s what they must tell themselves, after all, in order to avoid feeling horribly ashamed at the way in which half the world’s population continues to exploit the bodies and labour of the other half. The gender pay gap is seen as something which has evolved naturally because – as Marçal writes – “the job market is still largely defined by the idea that humans are bodiless, sexless, profit-seeking individuals without family or context”. If women “choose” to behave as though this is not the case, well, that’s their look-out (that the economy as a whole benefits from such behaviour since it means workers/consumers continue to be born and kept alive is just a happy coincidence).

I am not for one moment suggesting that women should therefore be “liberated” to make the same choices as men do. Rather, men should face the same restrictions and be expected to meet the same obligations as women. Care work isn’t going anywhere. There will always be people who are too young, too old or too sick to take care of themselves. Rebranding  this work the “life” side of the great “work-life balance” isn’t fooling anyone.

So I’m sorry, men. Your valiant efforts in mansplaining the gender pay gap have been noted. What a tough job it must be. But next time, why not change a few nappies, wash a few dishes and mop up a few pools of vomit instead? Go on, live a little. You’ve earned it. 

Glosswitch is a feminist mother of three who works in publishing.