It’s Budget day tomorrow and there’s growing concern among Tories that the Chancellor may be about to bungle the Budget. Only rather than housing, the NHS or education, the issue that has got everyone hot and bothered is a plan for an 18-30 railcard.
Nicknamed the millennials’ card, the Chancellor is expected to announce that discounted train travel will be extended to people up to 30-years-old. Currently, the young persons’ railcard – which costs about £30 and means a third off ticket fares – is just for the 16-25 age bracket. The move comes after a trial of the 26-30 year-olds card took place in East Anglia which led the Treasury to believe the policy will be revenue neutral.
So far, so good? Apparently not. The plans have been decried as bad policy all over the shop. There’s those who think it amounts to a bribe to young people (though even if it is a ‘bribe’, it’s a hell of a lot cheaper than Labour’s £11.2bn bribe to abolish tuition fees). What’s more, it’s not just any bribe – it’s a dangerous one that encourages millennials to believe in a fantasy: ‘that the welfare gravy train enjoyed by our parents and grandparents will be there for us too’. Meanwhile, some over-30s see it as unfair as they also have to contend with tuition fees and high rent after all – even though they are more likely to now be reaching their peak-earnings.
Then there’s those who are sympathetic to the plight of millennials and agree that they deserve a good offer in the Budget – it’s just this one is inadequate. When you look at the difficulties the younger generations face getting on the property ladder and ridding themselves of debt, a railcard won’t solve the problem. Or, as my colleague puts it, ‘it’s like turning up for dinner and being served a slice of toast with peanut butter’.
But all of these issues seem to suggest that the Chancellor is pitching the railcard as the silver bullet to solve all millennials’s woes. No-one really believes a railcard is going to do that – not even Hammond. However, what it will do is make life a bit easier – and a bit cheaper for everyone eligible (and full disclosure, I am eligible). It follows that it’s a good news policy that will actually improve the day-to-day lives of twenty-somethings in a material way – whether it’s a few quid off there or saving £40 quid if you need to get the train from London to Edinburgh. Before I took to Twitter this morning and saw the gloom, I had some friends who cannot be described as remotely pro-Tory express their excitement about it.
The government’s plans to build more houses are, clearly, crucial in the long term to helping younger generations get on the housing ladder. However, a railcard that increases the appeal to living further out rather than renting in the city centre is helpful to that cause – though it’s been pointed out that it most likely will not apply during peak hours. The review into tuition fees may also prove important in winning over younger voters (though I’ve argued they should stay). But even if you accept that tuition and housing are the biggest issues facing young voters, what’s so bad about a not very expensive policy that cheers that demographic up?
Becoming eligible for a £30 railcard isn’t going to make my generation suddenly think all their problems are solved and the welfare state is here to bail them out forever. It’s perfectly clear that the state pension age will rise considerably before we can even think about retirement and that that pension may look a lot less generous than it is now. But getting a small discount on rail travel is a nice gesture that suggests the system isn’t completely stacked against younger voters. It’s part of a concentrated effort by the Tories to show that they are listening to millennials – as Sajid Javid said last week the reason many young people are not on the property ladder is not that they eat too many avocados. As far as I’m concerned, this is a good thing.