Posts Tagged ‘austerity’

Long read: Debunking myths on links between austerity and Brexit

Thiemo Fetzer (University of Warwick) addresses the misunderstandings and the criticisms of his widely-read 2018 paper “Did Austerity Cause Brexit?”. In August 2018 the Guardian Politics liveblog featured the headline: “Brexit is direct result of austerity and cuts like bedroom tax, research suggests.” The blog contained a set of graphs and paragraphs from his paper, which has since been accepted for publication in the American Economic Review.

1. Was there austerity?

One of the first critiques I received from James Ferguson, founding partner of Macrostrategy UK LLP (who regularly appears on the BBC, Sky TV, Channel 4 and Bloomberg TV), was the assertion that actually there had been no austerity at all. This was sent via an email, along with a request to retract the paper and “in expectation of no serious reply.” I, of course, replied helping James make sense of the data.

Behind James’ original assertion, which has since been repeated quite regularly in social media and elsewhere, is the above figure plotting out data on nominal benefit spending over time. This has steadily trended up over time suggesting that indeed, there was little austerity apart from a slightly weaker trend growth post-2010. So what is misleading about this figure? Firstly, the obvious: the figure is inflated by plotting nominal figures not adjusted for inflation nor accounting for population. But what’s even more important is that it masks a dramatic compositional shift that only becomes visible when decomposing benefit spending. The below plot attempts to do that along a single dimension: decomposing social benefit spending targeted at pensioners vis-à-vis the rest of the population (mainly benefits for working-age adults). As becomes evident, even nominally and not adjusted for population, benefit spending directed to pensioners has dramatically increased since 2010.

At the same time, spending on benefits not targeted towards pensioners, like ESA/DLA/ housing benefit, JSA/council tax benefit, etc. have flatlined and even declined in nominal terms relative to 2012.  The primary reason for the divergence is due to the triple lock essentially guaranteeing that state pension spending outpaces productivity growth and other benefit spending, which, in turn, has seen austerity by stealth by imposing nominal freezes for the bulk of benefits. When accounting for inflation, which over the period from 2010 to 2018 easily amounts to 25%, this flat nominal spending turns into real declines. Yet, this still understates the true extent of austerity, as low-income household’s exposure to inflation is different, as the composition of their consumption basket differs from the average.

The answer is quite evident: there was austerity. The design of austerity was a political choice and the fact that this was disputed by professional economists is astonishing. The 2010 Conservative-led government chose to implement a type of austerity that reshuffled spending away from the future and current generations by cutting spending on education (crumbling schools, tuition fees) and the working poor (tax credits and housing benefit cuts), to state pension recipients. This, of course, is not to suggest that state pension recipients have been sheltered from austerity. In fact, the UK’s state pension is among the lowest in developed countries with old age poverty sharply on the rise.

2. If pensioners were mostly spared from cuts, isn’t there something flawed about the analysis, as older people were more likely to support Leave?

It is important to distinguish the Leave voter who, all else equal, would have voted Leave well before 2016 vis-à-vis those that came around to supporting Leave over time and, in particular, since 2010. These are two distinct social groups. Looking, for example, at the Eurobarometer studies we see that among all survey participants between 2000 and 2010, quite persistently 44% of respondents aged above 60 at the time of the survey think that the UK’s EU membership is bad for the UK – this compares with just 25% respondents aged younger than 60. The older population demographics have been persistently more Eurosceptic. It is this generational difference that comes out sharply in any descriptive analysis of the 2016 EU referendum, one of which I have written myself. Yet, it is important to highlight that the EU referendum was not tipped in favour of Leave due to the above minority group of life-long Eurosceptics. The referendum was won because Leave swayed a non-negligible share of working-age adults into backing it. Many of these groups have been directly and indirectly affected by austerity. If I were to put a figure on the size of the groups, I would estimate that around 35 percentage points of the 52 percentage point Leave support is due to life-long Brexiteers. Out of the rest (17 percentage points), I estimate that between 6-11 percentage points of the Leave vote were due to austerity-induced protest voting.

3. Leave voters actually supported austerity

The third critique that appears to have made quite a splash in social media is the assertion that UKIP or Leave supporters were actually supportive of austerity. This was recently implied in a provocative social media post by the renowned Professor Robert Ford at the University of Manchester.

This tweet was shared around 300 times and likely was seen by tens of thousands. It suggests that UKIP did best in the 2014 European Parliamentary election among voters who thought austerity cuts “did not go far enough.” This, coming from a renowned academic, may carry quite a bit of weight in the public debate. Robert argues that “if austerity cuts drove anger among voters which then drove UKIP (and Brexit) support we would expect the *opposite* relationship – UKIP doing best among those most opposed to cuts. Instead, Farage et al were rallying people who wanted the axe to fall HARDER.”

So, what is problematic about this analysis? The regression analysis in the plot compares the lack of support for austerity among UKIP voters to those that did not vote for UKIP.  I took a look at the exact same data to arrive at a more nuanced picture. First, it is instructive is to look at the level of support for UKIP in 2014 and preferences for austerity. The figure below suggests that even among UKIP supporters, austerity was hardly popular. Around 50% of UKIP voters state that they perceive that austerity had either “gone too far or much too far.” Only around 6% of UKIP voters stated that austerity should go much further. That means UKIP supporters did not overwhelmingly support austerity, as some may deduce from reading Robert’s figure.

What is the figure in the tweet picking up then? It is capturing the fact that among those that did not vote UKIP, austerity was even more unpopular. Among the non-UKIP voters in 2014, only 1.6% stated that austerity has not gone far enough – the difference of around 4.4% is exactly what is being picked up. The right way to present this is that, while austerity was actually quite unpopular among all UK voters, including UKIP supporters, it was just slightly less unpopular among UKIP voters. This could be due to many factors. One particular one could be that the support base for UKIP is or was quite heterogeneous. A 2014 YouGov poll of around 1600 UKIP voters suggest that at least 26% of the UKIP voters stated they support UKIP as they were “Unhappy with other three parties/send a message/protest vote.” Only 43% stated they supported UKIP because they want “to leave Europe, unhappy with Europe.”

4. Austerity is just one of many factors that matter

The story of Brexit is indeed complex. Unfortunately, even to date, there is little work that comes close to identifying causal relationships. Most of the existing work provides a characterisation of the average Leave voter or the average Leave-voting region. Some of this correlational work has become very influential in shaping public discourse. Regression evidence suggests a tight association between support for Leave and, for example, individuals self-identifying as English. Similar correlations suggest that Leave voters are more likely to prefer capital punishment. As became clear above, such evidence can easily be misread or misinterpreted – and more importantly, they do not explain changes in Leave preferences over time.

The most important distinction that should be made is between average versus marginal voters. In related work, I show using data from the British Election Study that in the run-up to the EU referendum between 2014 to 2016, support for Leave was bolstered by a sizable share of individuals switching from Remain to supporting Leave. In the BES data, between 33-40% of support for Leave in 2016 is due to individuals changing their EU referendum voting intention response at least once. Support for Remain is much more stable with only around 20% of Remain supporters switching to Remain from an initial position of supporting Leave. This analysis can only be conducted with people who participated at least twice, and there is a separate issue here: repeat BES participants are much more likely to express support for UKIP, Leave and Nigel Farage as I argue in my blog. The regular and much more Leave supporting BES participants, up to wave 13, received much higher sample weights compared to non-repeat BES participants (who are much more pro-Remain), hence potentially skewing the population averages of support for Leave that are usually published as headline findings.

5. Isn’t Brexit a backlash against globalisation? How does austerity relate to Colantone and Stanig (2018)?

Both my paper and Colantone and Stanig (2018) take causal identification seriously in a context, where this is very challenging. Both papers are, in fact, very closely linked. Colantone and Stanig (2018)’s work suggests that the Brexit vote was particularly pronounced in places of the UK that suffered most from the economic structural adjustments that come with the opening to trade to China. How does this relate to austerity? Places hit by austerity are also the same parts of the UK that suffered most from the trade-induced structural transformation, leading to a steady rise in benefit claimants in these parts of the UK. In fact, in one of the many appendices to the paper, I show that indeed, the Colantone and Stanig (2018) import competition measure is associated with a steady rise in benefit claimants over time. Yet, what it also highlights is that since 2010 this trend growth came to a halt as those who were shifted into benefit receipt due to losing their jobs following the “China shock”, had their benefits cuts. The two stories are closely related. Yet, the “China shock” can only most directly explain the loss of employment opportunities attributable to manufacturing sector decline. Austerity, as I study and show, also affected people who have never worked in manufacturing or had never worked due to a life-long disability.

6. Studying UKIP and not Leave support

Two doctoral students of political science from the University of Manchester wrote a critique of the paper circulated on Conversation with the title “Was Brexit really caused by austerity? Here’s why we’re not convinced”. This became “Brexit wasn’t caused by austerity, and here’s the proof” when it was published by the Independent. The critique was twofold: (1) the paper focuses on UKIP support as a proxy, but support for UKIP is not the same as support for Leave, and (2) UKIP changing its politics and strategy after 2010 explains its success, not a structural increase in the demand for UKIP-style populism.

On the first comment, the paper goes to great lengths highlighting that support for UKIP is only a proxy variable. It is the best we have to study the evolution of political preferences over time. Having voted UKIP in 2015 almost certainly guarantees that an individual supported Leave in 2016. And as I flagged above, a non-negligible share of UKIP voters did vote for the party, not because of the appeal of its policies but because of the broader dissatisfaction with the established parties and as a form of voicing protest. And, acknowledging that support for UKIP is only a proxy measure for the broader Leave sentiment that austerity helped to fuel, I study broader measures of dissatisfaction such as the perceptions that “public officials do not care” and that people perceive “that they have a say” or that their vote does not matter. Importantly, I show that these measures significantly increase among individuals after these were affected by specific benefit cuts. This effect goes through even when controlling for time-varying political preferences, highlighting that UKIP is indeed an imperfect proxy. Further, those same proxies of dissatisfaction are strongly correlated with individuals support for Leave directly, again, over and above what can be attributed to the measure of individual political preferences.

The second critique is really quite important and I partially agree that this merits studying. The question is whether changes in party strategy are consequential and it is important to measure these. This is the classic chicken or the egg problem. Was UKIP’s electoral success down to it being more effective in reaching out to already existing potential Leave voters? Or, was it because there was increased demand for UKIP style politics, possibly fuelled by austerity? One way to tackle this question and one that I think merits further work is to study whether UKIP started targeting different seats and parts of the UK by fielding candidates. In the analysis, also refined to the appendix, I do not find evidence suggesting that UKIP started targeting parts of the UK in local elections particularly exposed to austerity that could explain the effect sizes I observe. But since the data is imperfect, I do think it merits further work. But to argue that there has been no demand-side effect, in my opinion, is not very credible.

7. Declining Euroscepticism since 2010

There was also a comment from Noah Carl (who has risen to some level of fame for conducting pseudo-academic clickbait work and now gets funding from anonymous sources). The critique draws on aggregate time-series data from Eurobarometer and other opinion polls to highlight that since 2010, Euroscepticism in aggregate had actually been decreasing in the UK. This is portrayed as prima facie evidence that austerity could not explain why a referendum was held and why Leave won. The Leave vote meant many things to many different people and according to Noah’s analysis, there should have been no referendum, to begin with. But it’s a matter of fact that there was a referendum and that it resulted in a narrow victory for Leave. In my reply to him, where I actually looked at the decomposed Eurobarometer data, you will see that the data masks substantial heterogeneity and diverging trends among different social and economic strata in society, each of which have different propensities to engage with the political process. The takeaway from this is that one should be very careful when using aggregate data to draw such substantive conclusions.

8. An EU referendum was long in the making and austerity only played a minor role

One of the more tacit points I make in the paper is that, most likely, without austerity, there would have not even been an EU referendum to begin with. This point of the paper often gets misunderstood. I show in the paper, austerity affected electoral dynamics already well before 2016 with the emergence of UKIP in the most austerity hit parts of the UK attracting significant numbers of disaffected voters.

The fact that UKIP attracted a non-negligible share of disaffected voters from the Liberal Democrats in 2015 had dramatic implications. This can be quite well traced in the data. In a sequence of tweets from February 2019 dubbed as a “short history of Brexit” I draw on new primary analysis using BES data that was not included in my original paper to make the point more sharply. What the analysis highlights is that those who voted Liberal Democrat in 2010 were much more likely to swing to UKIP in 2015. This effect is much stronger if they live in a part of the UK that was more exposed to austerity. Austerity also induced the Conservatives losing voters to UKIP, but in relative terms, it hurt the Liberal Democrats much more. As a result, the LD lost seats to the Conservatives in Tory/LD marginals and to Labour in Labour/LD marginals and to the SNP in Scotland. The result was an austerity-induced annihilation of the Liberal Democrats across the UK.

The implications were dramatic. David Cameron and most pollsters predicted that the 2015 election would produce another coalition government. Hence, David Cameron thought he would never have to deliver on the promise of an EU referendum. Yet, the austerity-induced voter shifts to UKIP however, contributed to the outright election victory due to the annihilation of the Liberal Democrats and the surging SNP. Those very same 2010 LD voters in austerity-hit areas, who shifted to UKIP in 2015 and supported Leave in 2016, by 2017 were much more likely to express regret over having voted to Leave and are unhappy with the UK leaving the EU. This is very consistent with my characterization that a significant share of the Leave vote was indeed a protest vote and that for a sizable chunk of UK voters, the 2016 Leave vote had little to do with the UK’s relationship with Europe. The fact that the elections prior to 2016 were affected by the economic and social effects of austerity is key to understand why a referendum was eventually called. This is the evidence basis upon which I argue that without austerity, there may not even have been a referendum, to begin with.

9. Outright rejection without engagement

There have been quite a few people who are prominent and vocal in the debate on Brexit who outright dismissed my paper (see, for example, Matthew J Goodwin here or here). I actually asked for their substantive comments on the paper but never received them. If a critique can’t be substantiated with evidence or analysis, it is not a critique – but an opinion. I respect opinions but there should be limited space for them in social science, as opinions do not advance the academic discourse. I worry a bit about social science as our shared objective as academics should be to advance the debate through actual analysis and evidence. At the heart of this problem may lie diverging views across disciplines as to “what constitutes evidence.”

I do not want to make absolutist statements. My paper, I think, shows quite compellingly that austerity matters at the margin. And that this margin is consequential – explaining around 6-11 percentage points of the 52 percentage point Leave vote in 2016.  That does not imply that I do not think culture, perceptions of immigration, campaigning, party-political strategy and rhetoric as well as the media more broadly do not matter – they obviously do. But as of now, we have limited work showing exactly through what channels these causally affected individuals voting decisions (or turnout intentions). Most academic work is really hard, difficult and requires a lot of time. I worked for more than a year on this paper before circulating it. There is a worrying trend within social science: just like political populism, there are “populist” interpretations of social phenomena within academia, often with limited evidence to back up these “populist” interpretations.

This post represents the views of the author and not those of the Brexit blog, nor LSE. Image by Julian Stallabrass,  licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic.

Thiemo Fetzer is an Associate Professor in the Department of Economics at the University of Warwick. He is a Visiting Fellow at the London School of Economics and is also affiliated with the Pearson Institute at the University of Chicago, the Centre for Competitive Advantage in the Global Economy (CAGE) at Warwick and the Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR) in London.

The different ‘types’ of poverty: is there a problem with how we currently talk about poverty?

Stephen Crossley, Kayleigh Garthwaite, and Ruth Patrick argue that the different ‘types’ of poverty that have emerged in recent years may have the effect of diverting attention away from structural and systemic issues that need to be addressed. They introduce a new project which aims to encourage more critical discussion about the implications of this increased fragmentation of poverty.

In the not so distant past, there appeared to be a remarkable consensus around the need to tackle relative poverty in the UK. Whilst Leader of the Opposition, David Cameron said in 2006 that he wanted the ‘message to go out loud and clear, the Conservative Party recognises, will measure and will act on relative poverty’. The Child Poverty Act, which received Royal Assent in 2010, progressed through Parliament with cross-party support, and included a ’headline’ measure of ‘relative child poverty’. The cross-party concern about relative poverty was, however, short-lived, and superficial, at best.

In 2010, the newly formed Coalition government embarked upon a programme of austerity which relied heavily upon the ‘ideological re-working’ of austerity. The Coalition promised ‘life-changing policies that will help families to lift themselves out of poverty’, which drew heavily on the ‘pathways to poverty’ approach advocated by the ‘independent’ think tank, the Centre for Social Justice, established by the former Conservative Party leader Iain Duncan Smith. The ‘new approach’ was supported by a consultation in 2012 to find ‘better measures’ of child poverty which would weaken and potentially side-line the income-based indicators in Child Poverty Act. The Work and Welfare Reform Act 2016 saw large swathes of the Child Poverty Act rescinded, with the targets for ‘eradicating’ child poverty effectively abolished. The name of the Act was even retrospectively changed to the Life Chances Act. Whilst child poverty statistics would continue to be collected and published by the government, there was no longer an obligation to report them to Parliament.

Nevertheless, debates about poverty have increased in recent years. Period poverty, clothing poverty, food poverty, bed poverty, pet poverty, and funeral poverty (amongst other poverty ‘types’) are terms that are becoming increasingly normalised. Campaigns to encourage us to donate food and sanitary products for those unable to afford them are present in the majority of supermarkets, in workplaces, universities, and even at football grounds. A growing focus on the emergence and problem of different ‘poverties’ by media and campaigning organisations has occurred at the same time as the UK government has attempted to marginalise discussions of poverty, particularly child poverty, and as austerity continues to elicit ‘mean spirited’ and ‘punitive’ policies.

Raising awareness of people going without basic essentials such as sanitary products (and subsequent efforts provide these to those who need them) can assist people living in poverty temporarily, but ultimately, it is likely people will continue to face the chronic and multiple realities of poverty in the longer term because the underlying causes remain unaddressed. As charitable, fragmentary provision increases across diverse poverty types, there is a parallel risk that this leads to a retreat from recognising the necessity of providing money to alleviate poverty.  Where services and goods replace income transfers, there is the inevitable linked danger that individuals experiencing poverty have reduced scope to choose how to spend their limited income.

Our intention is not to discredit the work that is being done to address these issues; after all, there is a real and growing need for the support being offered through charitable provision. However, a focus on the symptoms of poverty may not only conceal wider issues of inequality and injustice, but can also contribute to and reinforce hierarchies of deservingness and entrench the stigma of poverty. It is well documented, for example, that visiting a food bank is a source of stigma and shame, while the conditions of entitlement attached to these (and other) forms of emergency support can create further layers of conditionality with which people must comply, and which then sit alongside state-imposed welfare conditionality.

In our working paper, we argue for a revived focus on poverty as a lack of resources, rather than focusing on a lack of specific items, such as food, clothes, a suitable bed, or sanitary products. This is particularly relevant at a time when governments are proposing a ‘new approach’ to tackling child poverty, and when think-tanks and campaigners are urging us to ‘rethink poverty’ and arguing it is time to ‘tell a new story’ about poverty in the UK – one which involves ‘toning down the politics’ – or using a ‘new poverty measure’ as outlined by the Social Metrics Commission.

We would like to encourage more critical discussion about the implications of the increased fragmentation of poverty, as part of a wider exploration of policymakers, and stakeholders talk about poverty – is there a right or wrong way to do this? Who decides what’s right or wrong? Should we all be singing from the same hymn sheet, or is it critical reflection that we need? These questions would all merit further discussion, and we hope our working paper (and linked project) will help promote and enable debates about the changing ways we problematise and address poverty in the UK. This has undergone rapid, and in some ways unprecedented change in the UK context and the consequences of this needs to be more fully understood.


Note: the above draws on the authors’ working paper available here. More information about the linked project is also available here.

About the Author

Stephen Crossley is Senior Lecturer in the Department of Social Work, Education and Community Wellbeing at Northumbria University.



Kayleigh Garthwaite is a Birmingham Fellow in the Department of Social Policy, Sociology and Criminology at the University of Birmingham.



Ruth Patrick is Lecturer in Social Policy & Social Work at the University of York.




All articles posted on this blog give the views of the author(s), and not the position of LSE British Politics and Policy, nor of the London School of Economics and Political Science. Featured image credit: Pixabay (Public Domain).

This sham of a Queen’s speech could prove the end for Boris Johnson | Polly Toynbee

The prime minister wanted to shoot Labour’s fox but he has no plans, no vision – just focus-grouped pleasers

Folderol, hokum and flapdoodle – the usual absurdities of the Queen’s speech rigmarole were reduced to their ultimate fatuity on Monday. As she named those 26 never-to-be-enacted bills engraved laboriously on goatskin vellum, they might as well have been scribbled in ballpoint pen, these electioneering geegaws and giveaways, embellished with thumbscrews on crime and migration. But nothing matters here except the evanescent promise of an EU withdrawal deal, always just beyond reach. “My government will …” she intoned as if sucking lemons, but she has no government capable of doing anything at all.

What heavy lifting it would take to turn this country into Boris Johnson’s “greatest place on Earth”, in its present miserable state caused mainly by him. Leave aside Brexit devilment that hangs by a thread, look at the rest of his empty prospectus. If this was a hunting expedition designed to shoot Labour’s fox, it may have the opposite effect.

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Labour and the Tories promise to lavish us with gifts, but who will foot the bill? | Andrew Rawnsley

In their zeal to splash the cash on public services, the main parties want us to forget that tax or borrowing or both must rise

By the grace of God and through the machinations of Boris Johnson, tomorrow the Irish state coach will convey the Queen down the Mall to preside over the state opening of parliament. At around 11.30am, she will address the assembled peers and MPs: “My Lords and Members of the House of Commons, there now follows an election broadcast on behalf of the Conservative party.”

Well, probably not, but she might as well. It is always the case that the Queen is a jewel-encrusted ventriloquist’s dummy for the prime minister of the day. When Harold Wilson came to office in 1964, Private Eye put the monarch on its front cover with the speech bubble: “And I hope you realise I didn’t write this crap.”

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Austerity and the gender-age gap in the 2015 and 2017 general elections

Anna Sanders and Rosalind Shorrocks examine the impact of austerity on vote choice in the last two general elections. They find that younger women were particularly anti-austerity and thus less supportive of the Conservative Party. However, the same was not true for older women, who were protected by the Coalition’s policies on pensions and were more similar to men in their assessment of their economic situation.

The gendered impact of austerity has been widely documented. The Women’s Budget Group estimates that, between 2010 and 2020, 86% of austerity cuts will have come from women’s pockets. This is largely because women are more reliant on state services, welfare payments, and they are more likely to work in the public sector. Yet we know relatively little about whether and how these policies have affected women’s vote choice in recent elections.

In our latest article in the British Journal of Politics and International Relations, we explore whether austerity policies led to gender differences in voting behaviour in Britain. In doing so, we use the British Election Study’s face-to-face post-election surveys to examine vote choice at the 2015 and 2017 British general elections.

We find that in both 2015 and 2017, women were more likely than men to say that their living costs, household financial situation, the general economic situation, and the NHS had got or would get worse. Given the disproportionate impact of austerity on women, women’s economic/financial pessimism is perhaps not too surprising.

Yet the context of austerity suggests that economic/financial attitudes will differ not only by gender, but by life-stage. Women’s greater reliance on benefits and tax credits has meant that austerity measures from 2010 disproportionately affected women of a working and childbearing age – particularly BME women. Such measures included the abolition of child trust funds, the tapering of child benefit, and cuts to the ‘baby’ element of child tax credits. Meanwhile, thanks to policies implemented by successive Coalition and Conservative governments, older women have been somewhat protected from the harshest impacts of austerity. This was seen especially with the Coalition’s ‘triple lock’ on pensions, which was linked with a significant rise in the basic state pension relative to earnings. Between 2010 and 2016, the basic state pension – upon which women are more reliant as a source of income – increased by 22.2%, compared to a growth in earnings of 7.6% and a growth in prices of 12.3%.

These gender-age differences are reflected in economic and financial attitudes. Table 1 shows that women under 35 were consistently more likely than men their age or older women to think that their financial situation and the general economic situation had or would get worse. There is little gender difference at the older ages, with older women (65+) being no more pessimistic than older men.

Table 2 shows that by 2017, economic/financial pessimism had increased amongst all groups. Despite this growing pessimism, younger women under the age of 35 are still the most pessimistic, being much more pessimistic than men of the same age. Strikingly, in 2017 younger women were 23 percentage points more likely than younger men to say that the economic situation would get worse over the next 12 months.

But do these economic and financial attitudes translate into gender-age differences in vote choice? We start by looking at how men and women voted in 2015 and 2017. Looking at Figures 1 and 2, we can see that younger women were more likely to vote Labour and less likely to vote Conservative than younger men at both elections. Younger women were also more supportive of Labour and less supportive of the Conservatives than older women. In 2017, gender differences amongst older age groups are smaller than in 2015, likely as a result of the collapse of UKIP, who older men were more likely to support.

Once we take younger women’s economic/financial pessimism into account, we show that they are no different to men in their vote choice. This is the case in both 2015 and 2017. This suggests that at both elections, younger women’s financial and economic pessimism was associated with their greater likelihood of voting Labour and reduced likelihood of voting Conservative. Notably, gender differences still remain at the older ages – even after taking economic/financial pessimism into account. Women over 65 are still more supportive than their male counterparts of the Conservatives, and accounting for economic/financial attitudes makes very little difference to their Conservative support.

Additionally, we find that younger women’s economic/financial pessimism contributed to age differences in vote choice between women. After we take younger women’s economic/financial pessimism into account, younger women are much more similar to older women in their vote choice in 2015.

In the context of austerity, Labour’s policies in both 2015 and 2017 would have been particularly attractive to women of a childbearing and working age. Many of these policies pledged to dismantle austerity measures that had been implemented by the previous Coalition and Conservative governments. These included pledges to abolish the under-occupancy penalty (otherwise known as the ‘bedroom tax’), reform Universal Credit, end the two-child policy on child tax credits and the ‘rape clause’, and reverse closures in Sure Start centres. These pledges likely appealed to younger women in particular, given their greater reliance on these payments and services. Meanwhile, Conservative pledges – especially in 2015 – likely appealed to older women voters in particular. These pledges included promises to retain the ‘triple lock’ on pensions, maintain universal pensioner benefits and pension flexibilities, which likely exacerbated the age differences among women that we find in 2015.

With the prospect of an early general election looming, it is clear that challenges lie ahead for both Labour and the Conservatives. For Labour, the party will need to consider how to reach out to older voters – particularly older women – with whom they have fared badly in past elections. While Labour did pledge to protect a range of pension-age benefits in 2017, some have raised concerns that such policies were not properly costed. Ensuring properly costed policies will provide a good starting point to ensure the party can reach out to older voters, who are already less likely to trust Labour with the economy.

For the Conservatives, the party will need to consider how to win back the votes of women, with whom they once had a lead. Continued austerity measures could have an impact on Conservative support not only among younger women, but among the party’s core base of older women as well. Despite the Chancellor’s promise of an ‘end to austerity’, there has been no mention of reversing the impact of austerity cuts already made. If the Conservatives are to restore their traditional lead with women voters, they must start by addressing their economic and financial concerns.

Note: the above draws on the authors published work in the British Journal of Politics and International Relations.

About the Author

Anna Sanders is a Doctoral Candidate at the University of Manchester.




Rosalind Shorrocks is Lecturer in Politics at the University of Manchester.




All articles posted on this blog give the views of the author(s), and not the position of LSE British Politics and Policy, nor of the London School of Economics and Political Science. Featured image credit: Pixabay (Public Domain).

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