The Conservatives are right to target young voters and should consider this simple tax cut

 
Julian Harris
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Politicians are being urged to remove the burden of National Insurance payments from all young workers (Source: Getty)

For a good while now British politicians have been terrified of alienating older voters, whose turnout levels on election day tend to be significantly higher than those of younger generations.

This unavoidable electoral reality has led some economists to argue that Britain's fiscal system is structurally biased against young adults.

Such a simple and clear picture was muddied by the snap General Election earlier this year, however. Turnout among 18-24 year olds jumped by 16 percentage points on 8 June and under-40s overwhelmingly backed Labour.

Read more: Philip Hammond mulls tax cuts for the young and writing off student loans

Little surprise, therefore, that the Conservatives, who remained in government but lost their overall majority, are scrambling to propose youth-friendly policies to be announced at next month's Autumn Budget.

Two such policies were revealed at the Tories' recent party conference – an extension of the so-called "help to buy" programme intended to help aspiring youngsters onto the property ladder, and a lift in the salary threshold at which graduates must start re-paying their student loans.

On top of these announcements, rumours are circulating that senior Conservatives want to go further, potentially scrapping stamp duty for first-time-buyers and even writing off some existing student debts.

While the aims behind these proposals may be laudable, Tories must beware the unintended consequences that come from tinkering with already complex government schemes. And they should also avoid gravitating towards policies that excessively benefit the middle classes.

Read more: Gimmicks and giveaways won’t tempt young voters to the Tories

Help to buy, a monetary doping scheme more popular with housebuilding companies than anyone else, does little to fix the sector's weak supply. Similarly, cuts to stamp duty risk pushing prices even higher if not coupled with a radical increase in new housing.

Meanwhile, student loan giveaways tend to favour graduates who go on to earn high salaries. The system is undeniably ripe for reform, but simply tweaking the thresholds risks penalising taxpayers who do not attend university while doing little to substantially alter the daunting debt numbers that could deter tomorrow's students.

This morning the Taxpayers' Alliance proposes a bold alternative – scrap the student loan giveaways, it says, and instead remove the burden of National Insurance payments from all young workers. A trio of options outline how the Treasury could afford to give a tax cut to workers aged 16 to either 26, 30, or 32.

It is an attractive policy for its simplicity, offering a direct tax cut to young people across the UK from a range of backgrounds, graduates and non-graduates alike. It wouldn't solve the intergenerational imbalance itself, or draw millions of youngsters to the Tories – but it's not a bad place to start.

Read more: Exorbitant interest rates have turned student loans into a debt bomb

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