Young people and our government

The doors flung open in North Devon’s 111 polling stations at 7am on 7 May 2015, as did they in thousands of others around the UK. Millions of people aged 18 and onwards confidently carved their cross; black on white paper. The grand halls of Parliament and the wonderful structures that line Westminster’s streets held their breath, as did we. Formidable clouds covered the country in darkness and Big Ben chimed 10 times. This was when David Dimbleby announced the BBC’s exit poll, and now the people of our country, the young, the working, the old, had a hint of the forthcoming 5 years.

I, like many young people in our country, was too young to vote at this election, but despite this I was very engaged by the campaign. Why? The excitement of there being two parties and two leaders on a knife-edge and endless possibilities as to what could happen. In the end, the result was what mattered and by sundown on May 8 that result was clear – a Conservative slim majority government.

What does a Conservative majority government mean for young people? What does a Conservative constituency mean for the young people of North Devon?

Well, firstly, it should mean a high employment rate and a strong economy for our futures. Theoretically, many more jobs should be created in the next 5 years as 1.9 million new jobs have been founded in the first half of this decade. The Tories pledge to increase the tax-free personal allowance to £12,500 and abolish Income Tax altogether for salaries below this figure, meaning you, I and many other young people in our country will find our first jobs more rewarding. However, will these jobs be fair, or will thousands more young people find themselves on exploitive zero-hours contracts?

After completing their GCSE’s, many young people will either be going on to further education or applying for apprenticeships. Today, over 100,000 employers value and respect apprentices as being well trained and skilled in a wide range of fields. I try not to use too many statistics, however the 200 different types of apprenticeships on offer in 160,000 locations across our country do reflect quite an achievement for the United Kingdom. Under the last government, 2.2 million apprenticeships were created. In the next 5 years, the government aims to generate a further 3 million apprenticeships across our country. Unfortunately, though, the minimum wage for apprentices is currently just £2.79, a figure that I would like to see increase for the benefit of young people.

A question that everyone in society should be asking is what will the Tories’ £12bn welfare cuts involve? A ban on all under-25s claiming incapacity and housing benefit is a possibility. This is very worrying indeed.

Before the leap that young people will have to take into the world of work, comes education. This is where I, as a young person, am hugely concerned.

The Tories aspire for our country’s education to be on par with that of the world-leading Chinese education system. How our education secretary Nicky Morgan and her government advisors plan to do this with providing full funding to free schools, I do not know. In free schools, teachers require no teaching qualifications to be in the classroom, and yet, with this in mind, our government aim to set up a further 500 free schools in the next 5 years. Evidently, there is a complete lack of logic, understanding and relation to real people from the Conservative politicians when it comes to education.

With regards to further education colleges, the government makes a very vague and brief pledge in its manifesto to ‘improve further education colleges’. However, with huge spending cuts to the sector, I can see no correlation here.

In the past fortnight, the North Devon Journal exposed a £3m cut to PETROC’s budget. This was an example of the significant cuts that the government is making to further education spending in the year 2015/16. For most of North Devon’s 16 year-olds intending to study at the Barnstaple college from September, this means larger class sizes, which the Acting Principal says will give a “better overall learner experience for our students.” Would you agree?

What about higher education? The Tories contemplate the number of students going to university to increase exponentially between now and 2020, yet the £9,000 a year tuition fees for students will not be cut. Therefore, thousands more students will leave university with a debt exceeding £44,000 – a sum that David Cameron may be able to afford, but not ordinary people.

The next 5 years will be tough for young people. Nevertheless, we are the future of this country and we will continue to aim high and achieve, whatever the circumstances.

By Ewan Somerville | @ewansomerville

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