Tag Archives: Ed Miliband

No to Votes at 16

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Ed Miliband has pledged to make 16 year olds “part of our democracy” by lowering the voting age if he wins in 2015. Giving 16 year olds the vote does not improve our democracy and as well the justifications for it are weak – the policy is about populist politics rather than actual empowerment. The case for lowering the voting age to 16 is rarely discussed outside school debating societies and even when it is proposed to young people, the majority don’t want it. Probably because the majority of 16 year olds have greater concerns than choosing how much tax they aren’t going to be paying any time soon or who is responsible for collecting their parent’s rubbish bins.

Many of the populist arguments for lowering the voting age don’t add up. A few justifications from the votesat16.org website are easily undone and the idea that at 16 people are responsible enough to be able to vote is inconsistent with how the state currently views and treats 16 year olds. “You can join the army at 16 and potentially die for your country” is one argument – when in reality, with your parent’s permission, you can go through basic training whilst stationed in Britain.

“The law deems you responsible enough to consent to sex and get married.” This is again economical with the truth as the age of consent is to protect children from abuse rather than indicate a sign of maturity. To get married, like joining the army, requires your parent’s permission.

“16 year olds can leave education, enter work and be taxed.” In reality the law now obliges young people to be in some form of education until they are 17, and this is soon to be upped until they are 18. When the message from the state is to stay in education, the argument about 16 year olds being deemed responsible enough to work and pay tax like say a 30 year old falls apart. True 16 year olds can pay tax, but 15 year olds can also pay NI and IC? Why aren’t there demands for 15 year olds get a vote? How far do you take the tax line as well – anyone that has ever bought anything in their life has at some point paid VAT, so surely by this logic 10 year olds should have a right to vote for a party that would scrap VAT on their favourite sweets. No taxation without representation aye?

Society in many areas views 16 year olds as children – not adults. Granted, most businesses that are designed to suck as much money out of you as possible often determine that you should be charged an adult fare from about 16 or sometimes younger but the rest of society does not. At 16 you’re deemed not adult enough to smoke, drink, fully gamble, drive anything that isn’t a 50cc hairdryer, buy knives, buy fireworks or watch a film with a bit too much red or too many swear words in it. If you are incapable of doing any of these things, then how are you supposedly capable of choosing the leader of one of the most powerful nations in the world? The idea that children are growing up quicker than they used to and the voting age should reflect this is also a fallacy. Today young people are; staying at home with their parents, having children, getting married, entering the job market and paying taxes later than previous generations. There is no justification for granting an entitlement for 16 year olds when their responsibilities are as a whole decreasing.

Whilst voting is a right, it is also an onus entrusted to citizens because they are said to be capable of making an adult decision. Since we do not consider 16 year olds as adults in a number of areas, why should they be considered adult enough to be able to make an informed decision when voting? There will be occasions when you get a well-informed 16 year old politico – albeit one that makes you cringe with their statements in UK Youth Parliament or on Young People’s Question Time, if anything UKYP is justification not to allow votes at 16 – that knows more about politics than someone who is old enough to vote. However, this is not justification to change the law to suit them. The 16 year old may be more informed but this does not mean they have a large enough stake in society to determine how it should be governed.

When I was 16 I was unfortunate enough to follow politics and be interested in it, but I was an exception, not the norm. The majority of 18-24 year olds do not vote, so it is a real stretch of the truth by Labour MP Sadiq Khan to say extending the right to 16 year olds will “reinvigorate politics to get teens involved at a younger age.” Giving 16-17 year olds the vote isn’t going to change the face of British politics nor are they going to be a crucial factor in the results of General Election. What the policy is however is cynical – young people as a whole are less informed and can be manipulated more easily in order to gain their vote. This plays in to the hands of parties that want to dumb down politics and push simplistic agendas to the forefront of debate to gain some support – simplistic agendas such as giving 16 year olds the vote.

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The Minimum Wage Was 15 recently – Not much of a party atmosphere for Britain’s lowest paid

Sir George Bain, one of the chief architects of the minimum wage has said that the New Labour flagship policy is no longer working – and he has got a point. The minimum wage has lost its value over the years as inflation has outpaced median pay in the UK causing millions to be earning less than the accepted ‘living wage’ needed for a basic standard of living. There are signs of an economic recovery sprouting, which is giving Conservative politicians reason to be cheerful but whilst ‘Plan A’ might be showing signs of ‘working’, the reality for a lot of workers in the UK is that they themselves are still ‘hurting’. Inflation continues to rise, wages are stagnating and living standards are dropping – this is no reason to celebrate.

It is people that are at the bottom of the pay scale that are affected most during times of economic uncertainty and undeniably more should be done to help ensure their financial security. There is a general consensus that the status quo is trapping low wage earners in an unsustainable and unacceptable position, however the current popular solutions from across the political spectrum could not be more disparate and neither offers an effective solution likely to be implemented any time soon.

One oft given resolution to this problem is to enforce businesses to raise the minimum wage to the rate of the ‘Living Wage’ as determined by the Living Wage Foundation – which would mean workers would be paid £7.45/h as opposed to the current £6.19/h. Admirably, there are over 200 UK companies that already pay workers at this rate voluntarily and the idea has cross party support – it has been backed by both Boris Johnson and Ed Miliband.

However, the idea of a living wage is condemned for ‘raising the ladder’ to the jobs market – making it more difficult for low paid or un-skilled workers to get employment. Using basic economic theory it’s easy to conclude that setting a minimum value for someone’s labour drives up the costs of running a business – it makes employers less likely to employ more people thus pricing people out of the market.  Raising the minimum wage would on the one hand be beneficial to workers in employment putting more in to their pockets however it would have wider detrimental implications by adding another barrier to the unemployed. It’s pretty reasonable to lobby large multi-national corporations with booming profits to chuck a couple of extra pennies towards their workers, but when you consider small and medium-sized enterprises account for between 60 and 70 per cent of jobs in the UK economy – demanding these businesses that are already struggling in the current economic climate to cough up more seems pretty counter productive.

Instead of pressuring for a higher minimum wage, the opposite argument is to scrap the minimum wage altogether in order to liberalise the jobs market, encourage businesses to employ more people and make it easier for people to get their first crucial step on to the jobs ladder. It’s a straightforward, simple argument – if employers could pay some workers lower than the artificially high amount set by the minimum wage then they could hire more workers and reduce unemployment. It’s easy to regurgitate a Milton Friedman talk and assume that if the minimum wage was scrapped all our economic woes would go away – it’s good on paper but sketchy in practice.

Numerous reports have refuted the link between the minimum wage and unemployment showing that no conclusive point can be made either way. However, what can be concluded is that scrapping the minimum wage may liberalise the job’s market but it’s almost certainly going to end up with the lowest paid with a lot less in their pocket and will further bloat the welfare bill as government will have to compensate for this. With costs of pretty much everything going up, it makes little sense to hit the most vulnerable in society with another economic gamble when the results are so inconclusive.

The jury is out about what to do with the minimum wage and neither of these proposed solutions are likely to appear in any mainstream political parties manifesto anytime soon. So if the answer is not to raise the minimum wage and it’s not to scrap it, then surely the answer can lie somewhere in the middle?  This interesting report by the Adam Smith Institute recommends an alternative that avoids the pitfalls of the main popular alternatives and exposes the elephant in the room – the post-tax earnings of a worker on the ‘Living Wage’ is painfully close to the pre-tax earnings of a worker on the National Minimum Wage – this fact should not be overlooked and it’s a tragedy that it is. A full time worker earning the national minimum wage currently earns £12,875 a year before tax and the current rate for a full time worker earning the agreed ‘Living wage’ after tax is £13,355. By increasing the tax-free threshold to levels around £13,000 and taking minimum wage earners out of tax altogether, the government would effectively allow low paid workers to earn a living wage without forcing greater costs on businesses. It really is one of the biggest and greatest elephant sitting in the corner of the HM Revenue & Customs Tax office.

It is time the debate over the minimum wage moved on from the simplistic “raise it / scrap it” arguments and considered this alternative. The scale of low pay in Britain is a national scandal but it is an even greater scandal that a living wage can be delivered without hurting businesses and no one in power seems to care.

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