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.