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Does a pay cut change the way you vote?

Theresa May decided to call a snap election during a time of falling real wages. Is that wise? 

Amid the cacophony of the general election campaigns, Torsten Bell of the Resolution Foundation has noted something strange

Although politicos have been talking up the idea of an early election ever since she was anointed Prime Minister, Theresa May’s decision to call one comes at an extremely unusual time. 

Pay is falling sharply, and this has only coincided with a general election five times before – in 1910, 1922, 1923, 1945 and 2010. In all those years, the ruling party lost seats. In 1945, voters were fed up enough to kick out the war hero Winston Churchill in favour of the Labour party. In 2010, New Labour’s 13-year grip on power ended. 

As Bell observes, this is probably no accident. Prime Ministers call elections (even after fixed-term parliaments have been passed into law, as we recently discovered), and “Prime Ministers don’t do the whole Turkey and Christmas thing, unless five years is up and they have to". 

The correlation between household income and voting intention is well-documented, and relatively easy to track. The links between wage growth and how you vote are less well understood. However, the Brexit vote is already shining a spotlight on this area. 

The voters most frustrated with the European Union were concentrated in areas where wages had stagnated, according to research commissioned by the Financial Times. In one borough, Castle Point in Essex, where Ukip took 31 per cent of the vote share in 2015, real median wages had dropped by 13 per cent since 1997. 

This is not a hard and fast rule – research by the Resolution Foundation found that some areas with big pay boosts also voted for Brexit, and geographical inequality was more of a factor. But a study of local elections in the noughties by Declan Turner of Leeds University found that as real wages fell, support for the extreme right rose.

Whether or not an economist will ever provide definitive proof of the link between wage growth and voting intention, one thing is clear – voters have a few concrete indicators of how the economy is working, and whether or not they get a pay rise is one of them. 

Meanwhile, Brexit is starting to bite. Thanks to the collapse in sterling, inflation is at 2.7 per cent, the highest level since September 2013. As a result of rising inflation, the Resolution Foundation expects real pay to have fallen by 0.3-0.6 per cent in the three months to April. Meanwhile, benefits for working age people are frozen, including tax credits that top up low wages. In short, if pay is falling now, it’s likely to fall harder and faster in the near future. 

Perhaps May’s decision to call a snap election isn't so odd after all.


Julia Rampen is the digital news editor of the New Statesman (previously editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog). She has also been deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines. 

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The deafening killer - why noise will be the next great pollution scandal

A growing body of evidence shows that noise can have serious health impacts too. 

Our cities are being poisoned by a toxin that surrounds us day and night. It eats away at our brains, hurts our hearts, clutches at our sleep, and gnaws at the quality of our daily lives.

Hardly a silent killer, it gets short shrift compared to the well-publicised terrors of air pollution and sugars food. It is the dull, thumping, stultifying drum-beat of perpetual noise.

The score that accompanies city life is brutal and constant. It disrupts the everyday: The coffee break ruined by the screech of a line of double decker buses braking at the lights. The lawyer’s conference call broken by drilling as she makes her way to the office. The writer’s struggle to find a quiet corner to pen his latest article.

For city-dwellers, it’s all-consuming and impossible to avoid. Construction, traffic, the whirring of machinery, the neighbour’s stereo. Even at home, the beeps and buzzes made by washing machines, fridges, and phones all serve to distract and unsettle.

But the never-ending noisiness of city life is far more than a problem of aesthetics. A growing body of evidence shows that noise can have serious health impacts too. Recent studies have linked noise pollution to hearing loss, sleep deprivation, hypertension, heart disease, brain development, and even increased risk of dementia.

One research team compared families living on different stories of the same building in Manhattan to isolate the impact of noise on health and education. They found children in lower, noisier floors were worse at reading than their higher-up peers, an effect that was most pronounced for children who had lived in the building for longest.

Those studies have been replicated for the impact of aircraft noise with similar results. Not only does noise cause higher blood pressure and worsens quality of sleep, it also stymies pupils trying to concentrate in class.

As with many forms of pollution, the poorest are typically the hardest hit. The worst-off in any city often live by busy roads in poorly-insulated houses or flats, cheek by jowl with packed-in neighbours.

The US Department of Transport recently mapped road and aircraft noise across the United States. Predictably, the loudest areas overlapped with some of the country’s most deprived. Those included the south side of Atlanta and the lowest-income areas of LA and Seattle.

Yet as noise pollution grows in line with road and air traffic and rising urban density, public policy has turned a blind eye.

Council noise response services, formally a 24-hour defence against neighbourly disputes, have fallen victim to local government cuts. Decisions on airport expansion and road development pay scant regard to their audible impact. Political platforms remain silent on the loudest poison.

This is odd at a time when we have never had more tools at our disposal to deal with the issue. Electric Vehicles are practically noise-less, yet noise rarely features in the arguments for their adoption. Just replacing today’s bus fleet would transform city centres; doing the same for taxis and trucks would amount to a revolution.

Vehicles are just the start. Millions were spent on a programme of “Warm Homes”; what about “Quiet Homes”? How did we value the noise impact in the decision to build a third runway at Heathrow, and how do we compensate people now that it’s going ahead?

Construction is a major driver of decibels. Should builders compensate “noise victims” for over-drilling? Or could regulation push equipment manufacturers to find new ways to dampen the sound of their kit?

Of course, none of this addresses the noise pollution we impose on ourselves. The bars and clubs we choose to visit or the music we stick in our ears. Whether pumping dance tracks in spin classes or indie rock in trendy coffee shops, people’s desire to compensate for bad noise out there by playing louder noise in here is hard to control for.

The Clean Air Act of 1956 heralded a new era of city life, one where smog and grime gave way to clear skies and clearer lungs. That fight still goes on today.

But some day, we will turn our attention to our clogged-up airwaves. The decibels will fall. #Twitter will give way to twitter. And every now and again, as we step from our homes into city life, we may just hear the sweetest sound of all. Silence.

Adam Swersky is a councillor in Harrow and is cabinet member for finance. He writes in a personal capacity.