I know I’m not the only young person who is sick of all this petty squabbling over the European Union. As we saw in the BBC’s ‘How Should I Vote’ debate aimed at those aged 18-29 in Glasgow last Thursday, students across the country want answers, they want certainty, they want prosperous futures. As one undecided audience member put it to the panel: “I have no idea what to do, and I blame you lot entirely for that”.
Speaking to fellow students in Devon, there’s undoubtedly a general consensus that spurious and unfounded claims from Remain, such as ‘Brexit would leave families £4,300 a year worse off’, are pointless and unintuitive. Likewise, the blunder on the battle bus has left Boris Johnson’s pocket more than £350m lighter when it comes to trust from young voters. Indeed, a Treasury Select Committee recently concluded that these respective claims were “mistaken” and “deeply problematic”. Even those on the Remain and Leave sides in Glasgow admitted they had been confounding; one young pro-Leave voter said it was “appalling”.
Although the sentiment behind the BBC debate was fantastic, many of Britain’s students are still perplexed. So who knows what to vote? What choice is best for students? Recent polls by the student union at Petroc, the college I attend, and King Edward’s School in Bath found that 80% want to remain in the EU. I agree with them, and I firmly believe that all the evidence shows that students would lose out if we voted to leave on June 23rd.
It almost goes without saying that there will be better future job prospects for the current young generation if the UK is a member of the largest trading block in the world. Access to the European single market, the free trade area of the EU, is vital for thousands of businesses across our country and hence many jobs rely on it. This is particularly significant for city jobs; as Sadiq Khan said in his speech on Monday, over 500,000 London jobs will be at risk if we leave. Also, however sensationalist they may be at times, we cannot ignore the dire economic forecasts in the event of a Brexit. Do we really want to narrow the amount of job opportunities for our future workforce?
Then there’s migration, a topic that is increasingly being used by each campaign as a political knife, when actually it’s incredibly important to young people’s futures. It was revealed last week that the UK’s net migration has increased by 20,000 in the past year, reaching 333,000 in the year ending December 2015, 184,000 of these from other EU countries. Since 2004, when many ex-communist Eastern European countries joined the EU, the UK has seen an influx of thousands of skilled workers. The latest Leave video exclaims: “If you want to save the NHS, Vote Leave.” This is somewhat ironic as the current recruitment crisis in the British health and education sectors is making hard-working immigrants all the more vital if these cornerstones of society are to be strong for our futures. It‘s also a fact commonly overlooked that the UK’s population would be declining if the rate of immigration were lower.
“Hard-working immigrants are vital if the nhs is to survive”
Then, of course, there’s education. The education sector is likely to pay one of the highest prices of a Brexit, a fact that even Stuart Robertson, North Devon UKIP Chair, couldn’t deny when I presented it to him. It goes unnoticed, yet a large number of school facilities are at least in part funded by the European Union, particularly new builds. The website of the further education college I attend clearly states that the facilities are funded by the European Social Fund. The EU also subsidises numerous trips, such as the £150 five-day visit to Brussels I was lucky enough to go on with my secondary school.
Crucially, however, current or aspiring university students could really lose out if we choose to leave the EU. The Erasmus Grant is a European Commission initiative that accounts financially for any added costs incurred by UK students studying abroad and ensures tuition fees are completely free at the host university. This also means foreign students can more easily study in the UK, enriching our universities with multicultural diversity. A 17 year-old GB volleyball player I know told me that the Erasmus Mobility Programme fully funded her team of sixteen to travel to and stay for seven days at an Austrian volleyball academy in February. She was also given 530 Euros through Erasmus to cover all living expenses.
And let’s face it – our government hates students. Since 2010, tuition fees have trebled and deluded University Minister Jo Johnson announced in May that they are increasing yet more. Maintenance Grants have also been scrapped and the government is proposing to backfire on yet another promise by retrospectively freezing the student loan repayment threshold at £21,000, despite over 100,000 students signing a petition opposing such a move. For many students in England, Erasmus is one of very few ways out of a debt exceeding £45,000, simply for studying at university.
Employment, cheaper data roaming, migration, education, stability of the population, workers’ rights, the position of women… the benefits for us – young people – in voting to remain are endless. Ultimately, this is about our futures as we will be the demographic most affected by the nation’s decision on June 23rd. We must look beyond the lies, damned lies and statistics and get our voices heard. Politicians will engage with us if we make them.
Words by Ewan Somerville