The elderly population in the UK continues to grow, and this will only have an adverse effect on young people
It is no secret that the population of Britain and the rest of the Western world is becoming increasingly grey.
In 2007, the number of people in Britain aged over 65 outnumbered the number of people under 16 for the first time. In the 2011 census, over 65s made up 16% of the population of England and Wales (9.2 million people).
In addition, elderly people have the highest voter turnout compared with any other age bracket. For example, at this year’s general election, 78% of over-65s voted, compared with 43% of 18-24 year olds.
The ‘silver vote’ has therefore become the object of desire for all of the UK’s political parties. This has resulted in manifestos tailored to the concerns of the elderly; the previous generation, rather than the next one.
Policies designed to satisfy an aging electorate have included free TV licences for the over-75s, free bus passes, and the winter fuel allowance. In the run-up to the last general election, all three of the main Westminster parties committed to a ‘triple lock’ state pension - where the state pension rises by the highest rate of inflation.
However, this political courting of the elderly is expensive and simply unjust. Most pro-OAP perks, such as free TV licenses and bus passes, are not means-tested, meaning that both the richest and the poorest are entitled to them. This is not cheap. Indeed, the universal state pension – a sizeable -£92.1 billion on the government’s balance sheet – is the largest single component of our £217billion welfare budget.
In contrast to those who live in austerity Britain, pensioners have actually experienced a 5% income increase since 2010. The young are not so fortunate. After July’s budget, the young unemployed will no longer be automatically entitled to housing benefit and will suffer a three year freeze on their Jobseeker’s Allowance.
This is all on top of the fact that the elderly belong to a generation that historically has benefitted from the welfare state through policies such as free tertiary education. Moreover, the grey masses are more likely to use state facilities – such as the NHS – in the present day. A 2012 report found that emergency admissions for elderly people represented 68% of emergency bed use.
There are certainly viable arguments for why we should increase the state pension and preserve the other multifarious benefits enjoyed by elderly people. However, these arguments need to be considered within the framework of nationwide austerity and the long-term prosperity of the nation.
Pension-related benefits signify nearly half of the UK’s welfare budget. Considering that elderly people constitute just 16% of the overall population, we need to rebalance our priorities, primarily by challenging the notion of universal benefits. Indeed, by providing the state pension to only those in need of it, we could cut the overall welfare budget whilst upholding our duty of care. This would hence enable a re-allocation of resources to underfunded services.
Furthermore, a lack of support for the young leads to long-term economic problems. Indeed, if governments are unwilling to invest in education and skills, young people are less likely to be trained, more likely to remain unemployed, and will thus continue to burden the state. By removing state support from young people, the government is in fact digging its own grave.
This bias against future generations merely acts to perpetuate youth disillusionment with the political system. It creates and sustains the feeling that parties are more interested in their voter base than society as a whole. Young people should not be consigned to the bottom of the pile.