Theresa May’s worst nightmare just came true. Because Jeremy Corbyn has now suggested he’ll look into a problem that affects many young voters. And it’s a problem that’s largely of May’s own party’s making.
He did so at the same time that new research revealed some interesting details about young voters. So the timing couldn’t be better. For Corbyn, that is.
Labour’s manifesto commits to scrapping tuition fees for university students. But now, Corbyn has hinted he’ll go one further. Speaking to The Independent, Corbyn said his party “will look into” ways to reduce the tuition fee debt for ex-students. He continued:
We’ve not got a policy or proposal on it. There wasn’t time between the announcement of the election and the publication of the manifesto but I do understand that point and I’m entirely sympathetic to it.
Corbyn also told NME magazine:
There is a block of those that currently have a massive debt, and I’m looking at ways that we could reduce that, ameliorate that, lengthen the period of paying it off, or some other means of reducing that debt burden.
I don’t have the simple answer for it at this stage – I don’t think anybody would expect me to, because this election was called unexpectedly, we had two weeks to prepare all of this – but I’m very well aware of that problem.
Tony Blair’s government introduced tuition fees in 1998. Fees began at £1,000 and rose to £3,000 under New Labour in 2003. Then, when the Conservative/Lib Dem Coalition government came to power in 2010, it decided to triple the fees to £9,000. As The Independent points out, these massive fees have left “a generation of students and recent graduates with eye-watering debts”.
Students affected by these fees are, of course, those who attended university between 1998 and 2017. With the most heavily affected being those who went to university from 2012 onward. Largely, though not exclusively, these are people in the 18-24 age group or 25-to-34-year-olds.
The Electoral Reform Society (ERS) surveyed these groups recently, and released its findings on the same day The Independent revealed Corbyn’s intention. It found that 25% of 25-to-34-year-olds felt “poorly informed” about the upcoming vote. This promise from Corbyn should give them some food for thought.
Meanwhile, the ERS found that just as many 18-to-24-year-olds are interested in the election as the rest of the population. Darren Hughes, Deputy Chief Executive of the Electoral Reform Society, said:
It’s encouraging to see that the idea that young people are apathetic is a myth – 18-24 year olds are just as engaged as the rest of the public, with nearly two thirds saying they are interested.
The ERS discovered there was a gap between young and older voters in being “very interested” in the election. Older voters scored higher in that category. But in elections, parties are generally just one policy or idea away from raising people’s interest levels further or deflating them. And this proposal may well to do the former among younger voters.
With only one more week to go before the vote, Corbyn has suggested openness to an idea that could help millions of people. Particularly helping those who started out in adult life saddled by crushing debt. That debt is severely inhibiting for people, except for those for whom money doesn’t matter.
But come election day, everyone registered to vote gets the chance to decide what we choose for our future. If, that is, they vote on 8 June.
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Featured image via Sophie Brown/Wikimedia