N. Ireland Politics

Do politicians care about the young?

Politicians are forever kissing babies for photographs, but the people they really love are at the other end of the age spectrum.

At Westminster, where child benefit is being cut for higher-rate tax payers, the students have taken to the streets as politicians voted to double and in some cases treble tuition fees for a university education. Yet there's no question of means-testing winter fuel payments.

In Dublin the toughest budget in the history of the Republic slashed child benefit and the minimum wage, but left the state pension untouched.

At Stormont, where a new Commissioner for Older People is being created, the parties are bickering about how to implement the cuts over the next four years, and all indications suggest that measures that please the elderly - such as free transport - will not be affected.

The higher education minister, Danny Kennedy, has already said fees are likely to go up. This is despite a review of the issue in Northern Ireland by Joanne Stuart which suggested they remain the same - she is revising her recommendations in light of Thursday's vote at Westminster.

Parties are happy to suggest pay freezes - and even small cuts at the higher end - in the public sector. They also make a virtue out of protecting public sector jobs by suggesting that a recruitment freeze will allow costs to reduce through natural wastage.

What they fail to acknowledge is that graduate unemployment in the UK is at a 20-year high and that a civil service recruitment freeze means that will get significantly worse. There's not much chance of graduates paying off their debt mountains when they're sitting on the dole.

There may be a cynical explanation for why the elderly appear to carry more clout than the youthful - they vote in greater numbers.

87% of men and women over the age of 65 vote compared to around half of 18-24 year-olds according to research from the University of Essex. So, while students take to the streets their grandparents head for the polling booth - perhaps there's a lesson in that.

On Sunday's Politics show we take a look at the Executive's much-derided CSI Policy and find out why the "shared future" strategy has created so much division.

Jim

PS - James Naughtie got into trouble this week for a slip of the tongue, but sometimes we say things that are perfectly fine but have another unanticipated meaning.

Campaigners for the Commissioner for Older People carried a soft-toy tiger with them to Stormont recently to emphasize that they did not want the new role to be a "toothless tiger".

After the debate they enjoyed lunch in the Long Gallery where a colleague asked one elderly activist: "Why do you want the older people's commissioner to have real teeth?"

Around the BBC