Mind the generation gap: Brexit vote holds lessons for India
By voting to leave the EU in the Brexit vote, the elderly have inadvertently snatched from British youth the opportunities that they had themselves availed.
By opting to defy the will of their political leaders and the advice of their financial experts, British voters may have triggered a domino effect that could irrevocably damage their economy and the European Union. As the UK is left reeling from the results of the Brexit referendum, with a 52% vote to leave the EU that immediately saw the British pound plummet to its lowest point in 31 years, there is widespread regret (dubbed ‘Regrexit’) and calls for a second referendum. Prime Minister David Cameron has even announced his resignation.
Much of this regret stems from the voters of the Leave Campaign feeling flummoxed as the gravity of their choice settled in. After the polling, Google reported sharp increase in searches not only related to the ballot results but also about basic questions concerning the implications of the vote. This is the digital equivalent of shutting the barn door after the horse has bolted. Several people also stated that they had cast a ‘protest vote’ purely because they didn’t want the Remain campaign to win by a very wide margin.
Prior to a victory they didn’t see coming, the Leave campaign canvassed with the message ‘we send the EU £350 million a week, let’s fund our NHS instead’ emblazoned across their campaign bus. When the referendum results were out, Nigel Farage, the leader of the UK Independence Party (UKIP), almost immediately backtracked on the money pledged to the National Health Service (NHS) and claimed that this figure was a ‘mistake’.
Immigration was another key issue that prompted many to vote in favour of leaving the EU. Of late, there has been an undercurrent of hostility against immigrants as more and more working-class British people subscribe to far-right politics. The UKIP has always promoted the British-jobs-for-British-people rhetoric but, in order to gain more votes for the Leave campaign, they also capitalized on the ongoing refugee crisis in Europe. Voters, who were earlier promised that leaving the EU would put an end to their immigration paranoia, are now being told by the same politicians that “Frankly, if people think that they have voted and there is now going to be zero immigration from the EU, they are going to be disappointed.”
One of the biggest talking points in the aftermath of the referendum results is the breakdown of voter demographics. It has emerged that the youth (18-24 age group) of the country, who would have to live with the decision of the referendum the longest, had resoundingly voted to Remain in the EU with a 64% majority. Even the age group older than them (25-49) voted for Remain with 45%. However, the age group that would have to live with the decision the shortest (65+), voted for the Leave campaign with an overwhelming 58% majority. Since the referendum was a close one, it was this demographic that is said to have swung the vote in favour of leaving the EU. This is nothing short of the elderly sabotaging the future of the young.
Before one comes to the defence of the pensioners, consider that things are anyway not great for today’s British youth. Nine out of ten young Britons won’t be able to afford their own homes by the year 2025 due to rising property prices and cost of living.
By the same year it is estimated that the over 65s will represent a third of all home owners in Britain. These figures were calculated in February of this year and are only going to get more unflattering in the light of Brexit.
The British government has been on an austerity drive since 2010. Sustained reductions in public spending have seen cutbacks in several key areas such as health, benefits and education that adversely affect the British youth today. Compare this to the privileges extended to the “baby boomer” generation which has voted to leave the EU.
British people born in the post-World War II baby boom between the years of 1946 and 1964 grew up in a time of great government subsidies in post-war housing and education. Their generation received peak levels of income which allowed them to reap the benefits of a stable household and better retirement programs that continue to pay dividends till the present day.
The increased consumerism and affluence of this generation has been criticized as being excessive. This is poles apart from the uncertainty that the British youth face today.
By voting to leave the EU, the elderly have inadvertently snatched from British youth the opportunities that they had themselves availed for the last three decades. Because of their vote, it will now be much more difficult for young Britons to find employment or buy property elsewhere in Europe. There is also the immediate blitzkrieg of inflation, higher tax rates, falling property prices and higher interest rates to deal with.
If there is a lesson to be learnt from the EU referendum, it is that one should cast one’s vote with good judgement. There is bound to a generation gap between voters but this should not stop them for sparing a thought for the other age group. The youth should take care that their vote doesn’t harm the interests of the elderly (pensions, health-care) and the elderly should in turn extend the same courtesy to the pressing concerns of the youth (job opportunities, home ownership, financial stability).
India has the world’s highest youth population with an estimated 356 million in the 10-24 age bracket. This demographic comprises of India’s future innovators, creators, builders and leaders but they can transform the future only if the current generation works to grant them the right skills and opportunities in life. Unfortunately, just like in UK, India has seen a recent backlash against the young with educational institutions being subject to political violence and Indian taxpayers questioning the value of supporting an increasingly dissenting youth. The NDA government has implemented huge budget cuts in the education sector and child health care this year.
India is a country where the elderly have always called the shots when it comes to marriage, accommodation and everyday lifestyle. This is changing as more and more Indian families go nuclear and break the patriarchal/matriarchal hierarchy upheld by the joint family structure. Young Indians today want to be free to marry whoever they want. They want to work in any field of their choice. They want to watch/listen/read something without it being subject to ridiculous censorship or bans. They also want to be able to rent an apartment without having to sell their kidney. Only when we grant them these rights can it be said that they live in a functioning democracy.
In light of the tohuboho of the Brexit referendum, the Indians of today need to meditate over the kind of India they want to leave behind for the Indians of tomorrow.
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