Lots to cry about for the young. Photo: Ute Grabowsky
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George Osborne's Budget is an attack on the young

Don't vote, don't get.

Perhaps the young should blame themselves. Only 43 per cent of under-25s voted in the general election, compared with 78 per cent of over-65s. Now George Osborne has shown them the ugly consequences: fail to vote and, especially in an age of austerity, you make yourself an easy target for politicians.

That is the message from the Chancellor’s budget. Housing benefit has been abolished for under-21s. The introduction of a living wage (albeit rather less spectacular than it seems) does not apply to under-25s. Effectively this means people will be regarded as “young” – and paid accordingly – until the age of 25, rather than 21 today, the age when the young person’s minimum wage is applicable until.

And, to particular opprobrium, it has been announced that maintenance grants will be replaced by maintenance loans from 2016-17 – meaning that the poorest students will accrue more debt than the richest ones. At least the maintenance loans will exceed the grants available today, so disadvantaged students will have access to more funds than is currently the case, which is why Les Ebdon, Director of Fair Access to Higher Education, did not condemn the move on access grounds.

Yet there is more bad news in higher education. The government has announced that there will be a consultation into whether the point at which tuition fees are paid back £21,000 – should rise in line with inflation, as was previously planned. If the threshold is frozen for five years, as is being mooted, it means that graduates earning 12 per cent less in real terms will have to endure an extra 9 per cent marginal tax rate. This regressive policy risks undoing the great progressive improvement of the tuition fee changes enacted by the Coalition: that a new graduate on £21,000 has to pay back none of their loan compared with £540 a year under the old system. And it points to a wider intergenerational injustice: we are constantly told that indulgences to pensioners, like the triple-lock, free TV licenses and the winter fuel allowance cannot be taken away without sufficient notice. Yet the terms of under which young people pay back their tuition fee loans now face being changed retrospectively. 

So there is plenty for young people to get angry about in the budget. They had better get used to it: with no sign of the turnout gap between old and young diminishing and an ageing population, the young are becoming even easier to ignore. 

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

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Our union backed Brexit, but that doesn't mean scrapping freedom of movement

We can only improve the lives of our members, like those planning stike action at McDonalds, through solidarity.

The campaign to defend and extend free movement – highlighted by the launch of the Labour Campaign for Free Movement this month – is being seen in some circles as a back door strategy to re-run the EU referendum. If that was truly the case, then I don't think Unions like mine (the BFAWU) would be involved, especially as we campaigned to leave the EU ourselves.

In stark contrast to the rhetoric used by many sections of the Leave campaign, our argument wasn’t driven by fear and paranoia about migrant workers. A good number of the BFAWU’s membership is made up of workers not just from the EU, but from all corners of the world. They make a positive contribution to the industry that we represent. These people make a far larger and important contribution to our society and our communities than the wealthy Brexiteers, who sought to do nothing other than de-humanise them, cheered along by a rabid, right-wing press. 

Those who are calling for end to freedom of movement fail to realise that it’s people, rather than land and borders that makes the world we live in. Division works only in the interest of those that want to hold power, control, influence and wealth. Unfortunately, despite a rich history in terms of where division leads us, a good chunk of the UK population still falls for it. We believe that those who live and work here or in other countries should have their skills recognised and enjoy the same rights as those born in that country, including the democratic right to vote. 

Workers born outside of the UK contribute more than £328 million to the UK economy every day. Our NHS depends on their labour in order to keep it running; the leisure and hospitality industries depend on them in order to function; the food industry (including farming to a degree) is often propped up by their work.

The real architects of our misery and hardship reside in Westminster. It is they who introduced legislation designed to allow bosses to act with impunity and pay poverty wages. The only way we can really improve our lives is not as some would have you believe, by blaming other poor workers from other countries, it is through standing together in solidarity. By organising and combining that we become stronger as our fabulous members are showing through their decision to ballot for strike action in McDonalds.

Our members in McDonalds are both born in the UK and outside the UK, and where the bosses have separated groups of workers by pitting certain nationalities against each other, the workers organised have stood together and fought to win change for all, even organising themed social events to welcome each other in the face of the bosses ‘attempts to create divisions in the workplace.

Our union has held the long term view that we should have a planned economy with an ability to own and control the means of production. Our members saw the EU as a gravy train, working in the interests of wealthy elites and industrial scale tax avoidance. They felt that leaving the EU would give the UK the best opportunity to renationalise our key industries and begin a programme of manufacturing on a scale that would allow us to be self-sufficient and independent while enjoying solid trading relationships with other countries. Obviously, a key component in terms of facilitating this is continued freedom of movement.

Many of our members come from communities that voted to leave the EU. They are a reflection of real life that the movers and shakers in both the Leave and Remain campaigns took for granted. We weren’t surprised by the outcome of the EU referendum; after decades of politicians heaping blame on the EU for everything from the shape of fruit to personal hardship, what else could we possibly expect? However, we cannot allow migrant labour to remain as a political football to give succour to the prejudices of the uninformed. Given the same rights and freedoms as UK citizens, foreign workers have the ability to ensure that the UK actually makes a success of Brexit, one that benefits the many, rather than the few.

Ian Hodon is President of the Bakers and Allied Food Workers Union and founding signatory of the Labour Campaign for Free Movement.