General Election 2015

New report: British political process rigged in favour of the rich and powerful

Image: Alan Cleaver. Licensed under Creative Commons

Image: Alan Cleaver. Licensed under Creative Commons ‘Some Rights Reserved’

The Institute for Public Policy Research has released a new report warning of increasing voter turn-out inequality between different age and class groups at the general election on the 7th of May. 

Turn-out inequality is the gap between those who vote and those who do not.

IPPR is a progressive thinktank founded in 1988 and based in London.

‘Political inequality: why British democracy must be reformed and revitalised’ highlights the discrepancy between young adults (18-24 years old) who are voting less than those aged 65 and over.

This gap is growing. 

In the 2010 general election, only 44 per cent of young adults voted compared to 76 per cent of the over 65s.

Since 1970, the gap stood at 18 percentage points. By 2010, it had jumped to 32 points.

The different in lower and higher age groups voting in the General Election compared to other countries. Image: IPPR

The different in lower and higher age groups voting in the General Election compared to other countries. Image: IPPR

The gap is not just based on age. It’s socio-economic too.

A new YouGov poll cited in the report found:

  • Only one in four voters in the lowest social-economic group believes democracy serves their interests well, half as many compared to those in the highest social-economic group.
  • Almost two-thirds of voters in the lowest social-economic group say that democracy serves their interests badly.
  • Less than one in 10 in the same group think politicians understand their lives.

The report also shows that the gap between turnout rates among wealthier and poorer people is also growing.

In the 1987 general election, there was only a four-point gap in the turnout rate between the highest and the lowest income quintiles. (Fifths or 20%)

By 2010, this had grown to 23 percentage points.

The result of this inequality, the report says, is that poorer people have much less influence at the ballot box than wealthier people.

For example, the most powerful 20 per cent of voters have 21 times as much power as the least powerful, according to the report.

Cover of Political Inequality Report. Image: IPPR

Cover of Political Inequality Report. Image: IPPR

‘Power’ is based on the chance of a seat changing hands and the number of voters required to do so in each constituency.

For these reasons, the debate around compulsory voting in the UK is growing. The report itself argues for it.

IPPR notes further inequalities between voters and non-voters in services and benefits.

It estimates that the 2010 spending review saw an average loss in services and benefits of £1,850 per voter compared to £2,135 per non-voter.

This represented an estimated 11.6 per cent of the annual income of voters and 20 per cent of the income of non-voters.

The report argues that a proactive strategy for democratic revival to address these issues is ‘desperately needed’.

Such a strategy should:

  • ‘be far more sensitive to the effects of class and age in terms of who participates – and has influence – politically
  • ‘recognise that political inequality is a complex, multidimensional phenomenon that is intimately bound up with other socioeconomic inequalities
  • ’embrace devolution as a critical opportunity to combat political inequality, potentially by giving people a greater say over political decision-making locally and helping to redress the overcentralisation of power in Whitehall
  • “seek to ‘reboot’ representative democracy more broadly”.

IPPR is due to release a second report later this year, which will make specific recommendations to address these problems.

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