The day before the Autumn Budget 2017, it was confirmed that Philip Hammond’s budget will include a rail discount for 26-30 year olds, effectively extending the benefits of the 16-25 railcard, in what one can only assume is the Tory party’s best attempt at impressing young voters. Yikes. They really must take us for fools.
While as a 25 year old, I am in prime position to benefit from five more years of savings on Britain’s grossly inflated rail prices, I do not see the so-called “Millennial Railcard” as cause for celebration, any more than a cheap pool noodle might be for a person drowning in a fast-running current.
In a properly functioning society, workers over the age of 25 should not require the same discounts as teenagers and university students. Our wages should, in fact, sufficiently match the cost of living so that we can, at minimum, afford transportation to our jobs and families, safe homes to live in, and adequate funds for meeting daily expenses. If I’m being bold, I might even suggest that in a first world nation, workers should be able to afford to live within an hour of their workplace, and the conditions we undergo while commuting should be, at very least, humane, with room to breathe, if not to sit.
Believing a five-year rail discount is an appropriate way of addressing the growing gulf between workers’ wages and the cost of living in the UK is delusional at best, and deeply cynical at worst. The Tories believe we can be lulled into accepting a society where the basic necessities of adulthood are, simply, unaffordable to those under 30. Underlying any minor discounts extended to 26-30 year olds is the implication that this gap is just a growing pain. It is something we young folk will work through and grow out of in time, like our notorious obsessions with avocado toast and social justice.
But the financial – to say nothing of the personal – cost of transit in this country are too high for most. It is not only an issue for the young travelling back to see their families, or chasing jobs, but for most commuting workers. This disgraceful status quo is the direct result of decades of rail privatisation and deregulated housing. Rail passengers in the UK pay an average of 14 per cent of their salary on their commute (for our European peers in France, Germany, and Italy, countries with nationalised rail services, the average is 2-3 per cent, according to Action for Rail). Meanwhile, 3.7 million British workers undergo daily commutes of more than two hours – nearly a million more than in 2010. Around the country, rents are rising 1.5 to 3 times faster than wages, while between 1997 and 2006, the median cost of buying a home rose from 3.6 times the median income to 7.6 times. Pay growth has been stagnant for nearly a decade and, at 2 per cent, is nearly half the rate of inflation.
The extension of young adulthood is an unsustainable cop out. Yet it should come as no surprise that Hammond is unlikely to do anything as radical when it comes to addressing the underlying reasons why workers are being forced to undergo longer journeys for higher prices. Because this leads back to fundamental Tory policies aimed at deregulating basic services.
Millennials are often derided for our love of selfies. At least, unlike this government, we’re capable of looking at ourselves in the mirror.