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Politics interview

Published on March 26th, 2016 | by Eleanor Newis
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What Do Young People Really Think of Budget 2016?

The wake of George Osborne’s 2016 budget has been rather chaotic, and the resignation of Iain Duncan Smith from his post as Work and Pensions Secretary and his widely circulated resignation letter have begun to make the government look a little shaky. Duncan Smith’s successor, Stephen Crabb, actually abolished the proposed £4.4bn of cuts which were to be made to the Personal Independence Payments (PIPs). He also surprisingly said: “We have no further plans to make welfare savings”, though it would be “absurd” to rule out any further changes before the next general election, planned for 2020. It has begun to look like Osborne, the master politician, has finally made a false step: there was an emergency Commons statement this week about the state of his budget, which the Chancellor did not attend. Whilst this might seem like a small event, for a politician normally so brash and assertive, it looks dangerously like retreat. So, the question is, what do young people think of all this; what do you think of it? Since Osborne has maintained this is a “budget for the next generation”, we thought we would ask a few of them if they thought it was. The results were, naturally, mixed, but the young people we spoke to had many worries.

The first thing we addressed was the sugar tax: Joanna Moss, 22, a university student living in Bath, said “the sugary drinks tax is a good idea and should bring in a good amount of money”. Ellen Cobb, 21, a Masters student at Birmingham, said “I think the sugary drinks tax is a very good idea”, and this is indeed a policy which seems generally supported. Action has already begun on the sugar tax, with a friend of mine who’s Masters is in Nutritional Science conducting surveys at schools about the plans, a survey which has been constructed by the University of Chester. However, Ellen also said the sugar tax “has been used to overshadow very unfair cuts to disability benefits and even more failures on securing the futures of young people”; the sugar tax, though widely welcomed by health organisations, has become a headline which some 18-24-year-olds have come to doubt.

Another 21-year-old told me she has reservations about the sugar levy: “I don’t think the sugar tax is a good thing […] it will just affect the poorest in our society and won’t really deal with the problem.” She asks “if the government really wanted to do something about it why is only going to apply to fizzy drinks, not ‘fruit’ drinks, milkshakes etc which often contain just as much sugar?” This girl also shares Ellen’s worries about the sugar tax becoming the most read headline of the budget: “I think it was just put in to draw attention away from the cuts and other less popular aspects of the budget.” In my opinion, Osborne’s strategy throughout his budgets has always been to take a political rather than economic line, making sure he has something to play as a sound bite on the 10 o’clock news, and a speech that has a hypnotic number of repeated phrases. But, now that the teenagers who saw this government elected are very much of voting age, they are not paying attention to the rhetoric, but to the policy.

Some policies which were lauded as being good developments were those relating to the armed forces and pensioners: Joanna cited these, as well as the raising of the income tax threshold, as a move which will “benefit others”. The lifetime Isa policy has also garnered some interest in my demographic, and seems to elicit a much more optimistic reaction than some other moves made by the Chancellor. One young woman I interviewed, for example, says “I will get a higher take home salary now” due to the income tax threshold rising, which is of course important for young people in their first job, who are having to save for a house, travel plans, or further education. As many 21-year-olds leave university to earn similar salaries to each other, this raise in tax thresholds could give many of them a financial leg up. She also commented on the Lifetime Isa policy: “I have been looking at the Lifetime Isas”, and this is indeed a policy that is providing another financial option for young people wishing to have long term savings plans.

Yet, though there are things in this budget which are welcomed by the young people I spoke to, the biggest worry which recurred again and again is not their immediate financial situation, or how much they are taxed. The biggest recurring concern among the young people I interviewed about Osborne’s 2016 budget is the reasons behind it. Though Osborne has repeatedly told us that austerity is the way forward, the “next generation” he addressed this year’s budget to seem to be questioning his particular brand of austerity. One of my friends, when I was talking to her, went as far as saying Osborne was going forward with cuts “for reasons of pride and political ambition”, and “continuing to stick to his personal plan of austerity despite statistics and experts showing that it’s not working”. Another friend commented that “it isn’t even real austerity when he’s giving tax breaks to those who are better off”, and then brought up the biggest worry: “it is ideological and not actually in the best interests of Britain.”

Another person noted that as Osborne “has been unable to reach any of his year on year deficit-cutting targets […] this budget increasingly penalises the lower classes in an attempt to reach zero deficit before the next election.” They also expressed the concern that “the budget only benefits the middle and upper classes” and “aids in increasingly inequality”. It might come as a surprise to those who see this generation as politically unengaged or apathetic, that their biggest concern might be the wider impact of this government, not their own bank balances. But, that is what I found. Ellen finished by asking “when will this government take responsibility for its actions and stop targeting the vulnerable?” Though there are measures in the 2016 budget which will help young people, aid them financially, give them better chances of owning property, they are overwhelmingly concerned by those worse off than them. It is clear that for all the Chancellor’s repeating that this is “a budget for the next generation”, the reaction of young people is maybe best summarised by a message just sent to me by Rachel: “#sceptical”.

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