Depressing housing chart of the week: oh, so that's why millennials don't vote

A much sought after area. Image: Getty.

One of the mysteries of contemporary politics is: why is it so hard to get young people to vote?

Government policy, after all, tends to reflect the interests of the old, for the entirely rational reason that the old actually bother to show up at the polling booth. The result has been tuition fees, soaring house prices and a triple lock on pensions funded by a generation who may never get to retire at all.

So why, when they're being so comprehensively stuffed, aren't young people showing up and making their voices heard?

Well, lots of reasons, one suspects. But here's one I've not heard discussed very often: because most of them rent.

Earlier today the Resolution Foundation tweeted this chart from the “Intergenerational Commission” which it launched in July. It shows, well, look:

By contrast, when young, even millennials who own their own home – and who owns their own home at 22? – were less likely than boomer renters to vote.

Nonetheless, housing tenure is pretty clearly a factor here. In every generation, and at every age, homeowners were more likely to vote than renters. Among those millennials pushing 30, homeowners are not that far off twice as likely to vote as renters. As the Resolution Foundation tweet says: “Fewer than 2 in 3 private renters are even on the electoral register.”

There's an obvious explanation for this: renting is unstable. Renters move more frequently, not always by choice, and so are less likely – less able – to set down roots in a particular constituency.

And if you're moving every six or none months, between getting your post redirected and the wifi reconnected, registering with the Electoral Commission yet again is one of those jobs that might just slip off your to do list.

So – there are fewer millennials. They're less likely to vote anyway. And this tendency is massively amplified by the fact that a sizeable majority of them rent. All the pressure on politicians is to keep house prices high, and to serve the interests of landlords rather than their tenants, and so the cycle continues.

It's really very depressing.

The Intergenerational Commission, incidentally, is an 18 months investigation into fairness between generations, chaired by former universities minister David Willetts. I’m going to go out on a limb here and guess this isn't the last time the subject of housing will come up in its work.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter, far too much, as @jonnelledge.

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Could twin towns bring Britain back together?

An unlikely pair. Image: Wikimedia Commons.

Twin towns: an irrelevant novelty to most of us, a peculiar name on a village’s welcome sign. But could linking one British town to another – a domestic reinterpretation of this long-standing European practice – help bring Britain back together in a time of national crisis?

Born in the aftermath of World War II, town twinning aimed to foster cooperation and solidarity across Europe. Communities entered formal alliances, nurturing friendships and shared histories. Coventry forged links with Dresden and Volgograd, then Stalingrad, marking the devastation faced by their citizens during the war.

The democratisation of Greece, Spain and Portugal during the 1970s led to a new wave of twin towns across Europe, as did the fall of the Soviet Union a decade later. Since its inception, the focus of town twinning has been on uniting people through relationships. It is a testament to the initiative’s success that many of these remain to this day; Coventry recently enjoyed a performance at the city’s cathedral by Volgograd’s children’s choir.

While European relations have improved since the 1940s, unity at home has received less attention. As a result, Britain is riven with deep economic, political, educational and cultural divides. These fault lines are increasingly determined by geography, with a growing gap between our big metropolitan cities and almost everywhere else.

In comparison to other European countries, we face staggering levels of regional inequality; six of the ten poorest regions in northern Europe can been found in the UK. As outlined by Alan Milburn, the government’s former social mobility tsar, “the country seems to be in the grip of a self-reinforcing spiral of ever-growing division. That takes a spatial form, not just a social one.”

These divisions are poisoning our body politic. As Adam Smith argued in The Theory of Moral Sentiments, putting yourself in someone else's shoes is vital for developing a moral compass; in doing so "we conceive ourselves enduring all the same torments, we enter as it were into his body, and become in some measure the same person with him..." But this is difficult when we have little interaction or experience of those with opposing views.

This is increasingly likely in geographically polarised Britain, with the places we live dominated by people who think alike. Our political leaders must commit time and energy to bridging these divides, just as the leaders of Europe did in the aftermath of the Second World War. By forging links between different parts of the country, a new era of domestic town twinning would do just that.

School exchanges between sister towns would offer an opportunity for children to be exposed to places, people and perspectives very different to their own. This would allow future generations to see things from an alternative and opposing perspective. It may also embed from a young age an awareness of the diversity of experiences seen by people across our highly unequal country.

MPs would be encouraged to spend time in their constituency’s sister town. First-hand exposure to voters in a very different part of the country would surely soften the views of even the most entrenched parliamentarian, making for a more civil debate in the Commons. Imagine the good this would do for Parliament today, with Brexit gridlocked because of the unwillingness of MPs to compromise.

In 2016 the Carnegie UK Trust launched its Twin Towns UK programme, a pilot linking twenty towns across the UK to examine how they might develop together. Emerging benefits include a reduction of insularity and a greater awareness of the bigger picture. Its focus was not on bridging economic divides – towns with similar socioeconomic characteristics were twinned – but initial outcomes from the scheme suggest a broader programme of domestic town twinning could have a powerful impact.

Looking further back, Camden has been twinned with Doncaster since the 1980s, a relationship that unionised Camden Town Hall workers forged in a display of solidarity with striking miners during the 1980s. Funds were raised to feed families of striking workers at the pit and Camden locals even drove north to deliver presents at Christmas. Though the relationship appears less active today, it serves as a powerful reminder of twinning’s capacity to bring people from very different places together.

As we prepare for Brexit it’s imperative that we protect existing twin town relationships with our European partners. This is of vital importance when we know sadly many of these are under threat from austerity and gloriously un-PC mayors. But we should look to breathe new life into these traditions too, where possible. Domestic town twinning would do just that: a step towards bringing Britain back together, just as a continent was reunited after the devastation of war.

Ben Glover is a researcher at the think tank Demos.