Today I’m looking forward to meeting our young members as they prepare for a raft of elections and debates in the Labour youth movement. Our young members have come from far and wide across the country to sunny Scarborough – where their minds will be on far more important matters than picking up sticks of rock or heading down to the beach.
Since May, the number of young people in the Labour Party has nearly tripled. We now have over 55,000 young members – a figure which dwarfs the youth membership of other parties. But now, under a Tory majority government that no one saw coming, it has never been more important for young people to get involved in politics, and stand up for what they believe.
We are Labour because we believe that everyone, no matter who they are or where they come from, should have access to the ladders that can help them move up in the world. Just this week we saw figures from the Sutton Trust, showing 71 per cent of military officers, almost two thirds of top doctors and about half of leading journalists went to private schools – which only 7 per cent of the country has the privilege to attend. David Cameron talks about social mobility, but where is the evidence that this generation of young people will be able to get on in life, whatever their background?
The Tories are hitting young people hardest; with wages low, maintenance grants for the poorest students scrapped, and voter registration rules cynically changed to lock young people out of democracy. The number of young people owning their own home is at its lowest level since records began. University tuition fees have trebled. 853,000 young people are not in employment, education or training. The proportion of people in zero hours contracts is three times higher for young people than for other age groups.
Labour introduced EMA and worked so hard to get 50 per cent of school-leavers into university – so that, whoever you are, and whatever your background, you had the support and foundations to make your way in the world. In the last government they came for FE students, scrapping EMA and trebling tuition fees. In this Parliament they are coming after poorer students by scrapping maintenance grants, and they don’t think that under-25s deserve a living wage. We know that FE and HE aren’t the only way to get on in life – but only 5 per cent of 16 year olds currently go on to do an apprenticeship.
But if you are a young person reading this, thinking how unfair it is that your needs seem to be completely ignored by the government – just wait until you see how little they care when you don’t even have a vote at the election. They have taken away the ladders for you to get on in the world, now they are coming for your democratic voice.
We meet in a week where we learned that 1.4 million people have fallen off the electoral register since the rushed changes to voter registration, with young people and student areas some of the worst affected. Some 40 per cent of 16 and 17 year olds who would soon have been eligible to vote for the very first time have disappeared from the electoral register in the last two years, due to the Tories’ hasty, partisan changes.
That’s why I have written to the government to ask them to do more to encourage voter registration in schools and universities. Please register now and do all you can before May’s elections and the June EU referendum to encourage friends, family members and anyone else you come across to register.
Our young activists will be enjoying themselves this weekend, making good friends and exploring their own and others’ views. But they will all agree on one thing. The most important task any young activist has – the thing that will make all the difference to their own life chances and those of their peer group – is getting rid of this terrible Tory government. The only way we can change things in this country is by getting into power – just think of everything we achieved from 1997-2010. EMA, civil partnerships, redistribution of wealth, lifting people out of poverty, the minimum wage, better pay for public sector workers…the list goes on and on.
I hope that our young members will be shouting from the rooftops about what we achieved then, and then hitting the doorstep to show our determination to do even more in 2020. Labour people, young and old, must do everything they can in the months ahead to win May’s elections and change lives across the country.