This is not a Government that works for young people | Jake Scott
The title of this article derives from a thought I had on the YC Panel at the Conservative Party Conference, and the state of the relationship between the old and the young today. Last month, at the Conservative Party Conference, I was asked at the last minute to speak on a panel with the Young Conservatives Network, on what “levelling up” means and the Party’s general approach to it. I warned the organisers that I would not be sympathetic to the Party, which they, to their credit, welcomed. Still, I don’t think they expected me to be as critical as I was.
During the panel, the questions were all broad and wide-ranging, and the panellists each said things of some importance. The overwhelming focus was on state power, though, even with ostensibly small-state-sounding solutions relying on the muscle of legislation and influence under the surface. Ideas of enterprise zones, which sound quite “classically liberal” to the disinterested listener, still are a form of market obfuscation, for instance, by creating arbitrary areas of capital concentration, rather than actually constructive and tied-and-tested, long-term approaches, such as slashing regulation and allowing local industry to flourish.
The panel became, however, a debate at the outset of the audience Q&A. The first question asked how this government was levelling up for young people. The other three panellists essentially repeated their points about “T-Levels” and “investing in local schools”, with one saying, nobly but somewhat platitudinously, “we should be listening to young people about what they want”. It should be noted I was the youngest on the panel, at 26, by a wide margin.
When the question was passed to me, I took a deep breath, and told the audience what I really thought. “I won’t mince my words,” I said, “but if you want a government that works for young people, it is not this government”.
There are multiple reasons for this. The first was the much-criticised rise in National Insurance by 1.25%, from April 2022. This, alongside breaking a clearly unworkable manifesto pledge to not raise taxes, was cited as helping to plug a huge £6bn hole in the National Health Service – specifically regarding social care. Now, I have never professed to being an economist, but the claim I hear consistently from older people is they have paid into the NHS all their lives, and deserve to reap the rewards. Surely, if this is true, there should be money to spare? Obviously we know this isn’t the case – National Insurance is now simply another stream of revenue for a bloated state, rather than directly funding the NHS, but if taxes need to be raised to pay for the generation that has lived its entire life under the aegis of the NHS, it begs the question – how high will taxes need to rise for the current generation?
Regardless, we are now faced with this rise in taxes. What does this mean for graduates, who have been funneled into a university system for the last fifteen years? We are now paying nearly half of our income, for a system that we have – patently – used less than the obvious recipients of this tax rise: the retired. When I was at secondary school, we were told university graduates earned significantly more than non-university graduates. That might be true in raw figures – but with the tax burden falling mostly on university graduates, how can that possibly be true in outcome?
At the time of the conference, there was a floated rumour that the earnings threshold would be lowered, meaning graduates would be expected to begin repaying their loan sooner. This has since become more concrete than a rumour; government plans to raise £2.5bn mean this threshold would be lowered to £22,000, rather than the current £27,000. I am wracking my brains as to why this government really thinks this is a winning move. I’m convinced it’s because of that old adage that ‘you become more Tory as you grow up’.
Except, that has only been true in an age of mass democracy, which has only really existed for under 100 years. You have to give people a reason to love the country over which you govern, if you want to be in government for very long. This short-sighted party is completely removing any possibility of this – as Adam Limb has written, younger generations have had their chances of owning property almost completely demolished, which this government could have avoided by asking pensioners to pay for their own care.
Property ownership is, of course, not the only form of allegiance, but it is the primary one. Settling in a place and fitting in with the rhythm of life there is the most natural form of community-building in history. Denying young people that opportunity, and replacing it with the synthetic sense of “community” that comes with impermanent associations – university, work… and that’s pretty much it – will undermine your vote base, forever. Margaret Thatcher, for all her faults, knew this intimately; and part of her (misunderstood) claim that ‘there is no such thing as society’, she passionately believed that by ensuring people have a stake in the country in which they lived, they want to form their own societies.
If you want a government that works for young people, there are a multitude of places to look, especially beyond the Anglosphere. I recommend Hungary – cutting income tax to 0% for under-25s is both popular and socially intelligent. In fact, for a government supposedly as authoritarian as Hungary, it is a much more ‘liberal’ approach than most liberals are even prepared to consider. Compare this to, say, the idea that under-25s should receive a lump-sum payment, or even the abortive attempt at social bribery in America in the form of their ‘stimulus cheques’. Which actually leverages the power of the state more?
Moreover, Hungary has shown remarkable dynamism in its family laws. Lifting the tax burden for under-25s almost entirely – regressive taxes still apply, regardless of age – has been twinned with incentives to not only get married, but to have large families. Granted, this goes against the grain I mentioned above, of withdrawing the state, but as I say, this is a dynamic government that considers outcomes first, and policies second. It would take too long to list the full raft of policies the Hungarian government has introduced – which is a testament in itself – but suffice to say, the decline in birth rate has completely reversed and, whilst it is not yet at replacement levels (2.1), it has gone from an historic low of 1.25 in 2010 to 1.55 in 2018.
Why does this matter in relation to young people? Put simply, this gives an existential tie between generations and the Hungarian state. This is not unknown in European politics – in fact, consider how many British citizens claim they ‘owe their lives to the NHS’. Put simply, when the literal fact of a generation’s existence is a product of family-centric national policies, your government is actually increasing its support base, in the complete reversal of the Tory party’s absurd policies.