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Is the new 26-30 railcard simply an attempt to distract?

I have always been a strong advocate for the ‘Young Person Railcard’, a must-have for any student living away from home and having to travel the length and breadth of the country to visit their friends and family.

Too often have I been confronted by what seems to be an inconceivably large figure for train tickets. My stomach churning as I work out what I could possibly sell to raise the necessary funds and make it home for Christmas, only to collapse in relief as I realise I’ve simply forgotten to add my railcard to the transaction.

Well you can imagine my glee when last Wednesday morning I arose to the news that I would be spared full fees for a few more years as the government was introducing a similar scheme for those aged 26-30.

Even so, my attention soon returned to the Budget in its entirety and I began to see through this weak ploy to appease us young voters.

While I am sure I shall be downloading one of the new railcards as soon as I become eligible (yes, they’ve gone digital), a number of political questions arise as to why the Conservatives have decided to implement this scheme.

The most obvious and glaring reason is the Conservative’s abysmal performance in the last general election, especially amongst young voters. June’s election saw the Conservatives only pick up 22% of the 20-24 vote, and an equally terrible 23% of 25-30 year olds. A dramatic failure the Tories are desperate to reverse.

However, I would like to think Philip Hammond and other members of the cabinet would not be so insulting as to think that the votes of young people could be bought with travel discounts, or that this would in any way distract people from the many worrying aspects raised in Wednesday’s Budget.

On the economic front, it was almost all bad news. Growth was lower than expected, and forecasts for economic growth over the next 3 years were all cut. Distressing signs for a generation facing exceptional levels of debt, joblessness, and rising house prices, all of which have depressed the incomes and prospects of young people.

For those 26-30 year olds lucky enough to find themselves actually with a job to commute to, and who were anticipating using their new railcard: think again. If the new railcard follows the same policies of the 16-25: discounts are not applied to peak fares unless over the £12 minimum ticket price and the discount cannot be used on season tickets. With a planned ticket price hike of 3.6% coming January of next year, the new railcard is arguable nothing but a futile gesture.

In a surprising move, it was also announced that the government would abolish Stamp Duty on the purchase of first homes up to £300,000. This is certainly a much-welcomed respite for many people hoping to get onto the property ladder as early as possible. Such a move may have been largely aimed at the 30-39 year olds, an age group that also saw a huge slump in support for the Tories in the last election with a meagre 29%. Yet, with a lack of affordable housing and house prices constantly rising, it’s hard to imagine that this will have much effect.

However, it may be the government’s plans for Brexit that really see them scupper any chances of recovering the young vote in this country. Setting aside £3bn to cover the costs of an exit from Europe, an endeavour largely sold on the promise of saving this country money, may be a very hard sell. Especially to an age group of which the majority thoroughly opposed the outcome of the referendum (those who voted anyway).  

In a time of unprecedented generational inequality, I must be the harbinger of bad news for Philip Hammond. It is going to take a lot more than a nice new shiny discount card – metaphorically speaking – to pull voters away from the sweet and moreish, if not perhaps utopian, ideas that the Labour party have planted in the minds of the young.

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