DESPITE the recent exponential increase in young voters, the growing polarisation between people and the political establishment remains palpable.
Recent trauma and fresh terror have brought a tragic vindication for those whose pleas for help were dismissed and ignored. Communities are bereft and many are looking for answers.
In a time when the content of the news has gained a certain devastating familiarity, I asked local seniors: what advice would they offer our fledgling generation?
I spoke to a group at Bulkington Library in Warwickshire, in itself a symbol of defiance in the face of rampant local cuts. Facing closure eight years ago, it has since been refurbished and taken over by volunteers, the majority of whom are of retirement age.
“Common Market, Common value?”
Many would agree that this year’s election campaign has been the most nebulous and miscommunicated political event of its time.
Of the group of ten individuals I spoke to, most had no idea that the election cost the country £130m.
Health is an overriding concern for the group. Mary Beaumont, a lifelong Labour supporter, described her disgust at the way Jeremy Hunt has dealt with the NHS, “We may be living longer…but where was the planning for us to live longer?” she said.
The increased life expectancy of the so-called ‘Baby Boomer’ generation, to which Beaumont and her peers belong, has led to an increased reliance on NHS services, but a decrease in political assertion involving their rights and benefits.
The group remain unconvinced by the promise of £350m being channelled back into the National Health, and some are in disbelief at the lack of Government provision for their demographic.
The group does, however, speak highly of the local George Elliot Hospital, compiled of a“diverse and superb team.” This does not seem to reflect the staggering 96% drop in EU nurses registering to work in Britain since Brexit, falling from 1,034 EU nurses entering the profession in July 2016 to just 46 this April.
Prime Minister Theresa May failing to unilaterally guarantee the rights of EU citizens in the UK was likely the catalyst in such a drop.
One year on, Brexit remains a contentious topic. Pro-EU millennials blamed the older generation for ‘stealing their future and limiting their prospects.’ Older voters were scapegoated without really getting an outlet to discuss the motivations behind their vote.
One individual I spoke with sympathised with the political apathy over the triggering of Article 50.
“No one wanted this referendum,” they said, “it’s like asking a bunch of conshees to plan a war.”
The elderly population has borne witness to the fluctuating trends of immigration. “We have seen Asians from Uganda to majority Eastern Europeans coming into England,” one said. Most thought it was not the economic demand which attracted migrants to Britain (EEA nationals have paid £3bn in taxes on income while claiming £0.5bn in HMRC benefits) but the “social ramifications” of immigration.
Another concern of the group was the ghetooization of some areas as a result of immigration. Yet, of the 1.3 million Brits that live in Europe, 306,000 have settled permanently along the Costa del Sol (a third receive a UK pension) essentially creating British enclaves and failing to contribute substantively to Spanish culture.
Concurrently, concerns over the social impact of immigration to the UK were actively cultivated by a section of the media:
Headlines from top: Daily Mail: 17th February 2016, 29th March 2016. The Sun: 20th April 2016
Care in the Community?
For young people, the promises of affordable living came with skyrocketing Government interest rates making property ownership, among other things, a distant dream. For the elderly, the reassurance that their care was being taken care of, was accompanied with a U-turn in social care policy.
Government policy over the past decade has seen a paradigm shift in social care policies, the recent ‘dementia tax’ perhaps exemplifies this state ‘roll back’. David Cameron’s ‘Care in the community’ intensified the pressure on local community figures and wardens to coordinate large-scale care initiatives.
The Winter Fuel allowance and ‘Dementia’ tax have been divisive. All over-60s are entitled to winter fuel allowance, but the complicated application process leaves many discouraged.
Doug Watson, who is in his 80s, says May was “too confident” in this election. Her U-turn in social care policy may have played a part, a move which required those suffering from dementia to use a sum of their assets to fund their care. The group argues that this action has meant that their manners of “being frugal has seen them being penalised.”
Bulkington sits in the safe Conservative constituency of Rugby. Most agree that local MP Mark Pawsey has been “very helpful” when they’ve approached him. Pawsey has a dominant community presence, hosting scheduled surgeries and maintaining regular postal contact with constituents. However, his voting record reflects a dichotomy in what he promises and what he executes.
One member of the group knows several disabled people who have lost their car as a result of cuts. At least a third of the group know someone who has suffered directly in the climate of austerity. Empty rhetoric will likely be a mutual frustration for old and young, ranging from his vote for the Bedroom tax in June 2011, to his vote for cuts in housing benefit (many whom rely on ESA) in July 2016. In a 2012 vote that squeezed old and young members of his constituency, Pawsey voted against a bankers’ bonus tax that would fund jobs for young people and against an impact assessment of disability benefit changes.
Excusing the pent-up frustration towards the older generation by many millennials post Brexit, it is worth taking the time to understand the needs, concerns and voting habits of a demographic which we will one day be a part of.
Jill, a key Bulkington volunteer, commented on how in the recent election she would have voted for any politician that had turned up at her door – “but done no one did”. Her thoughts seem to resonate with much of the group, who feel ignored by London-centric politics “politicians don’t relate to us, and our everyday struggles”.
Engaging with, rather than dismissing older people, will undoubtedly bring an opportunity for sharing and maybe even challenge your respective misconceptions- and this can only be a good thing.
Parliamentary voting records provided by theyworkforyou.com