Britain’s young people will suffer most from an EU divorce
I address these words only to my generation and the one that comes below. I mean no disrespect to older people, but we have heard quite a lot from you over the past few weeks.
The EU referendum debate has been a largely middle-aged one; as is so often the case in such discussions, young people’s voices and concerns have been mostly absent. But the referendum on the 23 June gives Britain’s younger people the chance to have our voices heard. Granted, it will be in the musty silence of the polling booth rather than in the brightly lit studios of those fraught, red-faced TV debates. And however we vote, it is important that we do so, because how else can we expect politicians to serve in our interests?
Those aged 18-24 are almost half as likely to vote as 65-year-olds. Analysis of last year’s general election shows that the young turnout rate in the UK is the lowest of all the 15 members of the old EU. Voters aged 18-24 in Sweden turn out to vote at double the rate of their peers in the UK. This is our chance to shout from the rooftops that our generation deserves to be heard.
A poll published last week showed the extent of the generational schism in the EU debate. It was revealed that 75% of 18- to 24-year-olds said they supported remain, compared with 38% of 50- to 64-year-olds (and 34% of those aged 65 and over). For many of us, this is the generation of our parents, our friends’ parents, our uncles and aunts. We have been raised to believe that they have our best interests at heart, but as far as this referendum is concerned all I have seen is self-interest. Whereas we love the older people in our families, we sometimes forget that their age bracket often also makes up our landlords, our bosses, those who run our universities, most of the media, and those who pull the strings financially and politically.
Much of this most fortunate of generations, many of whom have benefitted from free higher education, secure employment and favourable property prices, want to live out the next two decades or so of their lives in cushy comfort. Many have bought into a nostalgic fantasy of a Britain that no longer exists, a vision our generation does not cling to, because we have only seen it in Enid Blyton books, where the ginger beer is flowing, girls are called Fanny, and foreigners are viewed with suspicion. Young people instead tend to look to the future, to an open and cooperative Europe. Yet the middle-aged vote affects us more than it will ever affect the middle-aged.
Yet, as many older people swing towards leave, some of our grandparents’ generation are still on our side (and if they’re not, check out the drive to “call your nan” and convince her). In the past few weeks, I have had discussions with and read many letters and comments from people in their 70s, 80s and 90s, who remember the horrors of the second world war and, reflecting on the last 70 years of peace on our continent, thank the EU for helping it be so.
Large numbers of boomers, so lucky to have never experienced bombing, starvation, evacuation, displacement and genocide, seem to think only of money and immigrants, rather than the most important thing of all: our freedom and that of our future children to exist without armed conflict. Are we going to let them remove from us yet another privilege from which they have benefitted, as they did with free education and affordable housing?
We are in the middle of a housing crisis that is disproportionately affecting young people, and migration will naturally have an impact on the number of available homes. Being concerned about immigration does not make you a racist, but don’t believe that bull about EU migrants being pushed up the social housing list (in 2014, 91% of general needs social rent lettings were to UK nationals). Exiting the EU will not change the fact that the government is not building enough homes for us: do you really trust Boris Johnson and Michael Gove to do this?
If Brexit does cause a property price crash – a reason some of my friends are voting out – don’t assume that it will happen in a vacuum. There are likely to be other serious economic consequences hitting us at the same time, and as young people are already bearing the brunt of austerity, we are more vulnerable to these than most. With the exception of some Nordic countries, the UK is the most expensive part of the EU in which to live. Brexit won’t change that – try ordering a pint in Norway – but at least being part of a fiscal union in which young people are treated better, with rent caps in Germany, secure employment in Sweden, a better work-life balance in France, gives us a glimpse of how we could be (and if things continue to get worse, we can all go and live in Barcelona).
And contrary to what some will say, this is not a case of middle v working class. People from all classes have benefited from freedom of movement – we are not only the best-travelled generation to ever have lived, with the unprecedented freedom to live, work and study abroad (more than 15,000 of us did Erasmus last year) but Europeans are our colleagues, our friends and flatmates, our doctors and nurses, the people we kiss, live with, marry and have children with.
You are young, and you have the whole of Europe at your feet. It is a privilege. Do not throw it away. As others have said, the middle-aged want a divorce and they don’t care that it’s the children who will suffer most. They want to build a fantasy country. Let’s build a real one. For us. Vote to stay.
Author: Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett of the Guardian
Picture: James Gourley/Rex Features