THE UK electorate will age rapidly over the coming generation. Much has been written about the public spending pressures from this ageing population, but the ability of the growing numbers of older voters to exercise power at the ballot box is rarely mentioned.
Much-needed reforms in areas such as pensions are likely to be thwarted by the sheer weight of the grey vote while policies will be adopted that lead to far more government resources being allocated towards older people. The grey vote will mobilise and become increasingly important.
It might be thought that we need not worry about the ageing of the electorate because we can assume that voters will not tend to vote in their own financial interests but, instead, vote according to strongly held political principles or in the "general interest" of society.
Unfortunately, that is not true. Although people vote different ways for a whole range of reasons, the principled or habitual Conservatives tend to cancel out the principled or habitual Labour supporters, leaving interest groups with significant power at the ballot box. Indeed, theory and evidence suggests that the old are an especially powerful interest group at elections.
Their specific interests, as far as government policy is concerned, are relatively focused on issues such as pensions, long-term care and health.
Younger people tend to have a much wider range of interests when choosing how to vote, such as tax levels, education, regulation especially for the growing number of young self-employed and housing.
Politicians are already responding to demographic pressure from the ballot box. The 2005 election was notable for the fact that the major political parties had few explicit promises.
However, there were particular, and sometimes bizarre, pledges to older people, in the party manifestoes. These included proposals to exempt the old from increases in specific taxes, such as the Council Tax, provide the old whether poor or not with free bus travel, and re-link pensions to earnings.
In the recent past, there has been significant redirection of government spending from the young to the old. For example, the young have seen a reduction in support for higher education and the old have been given a significant increase in welfare benefits.
Changes to taxation have also hit the young hardest, with the married couples' allowance being removed for young people but retained for older people who surely need it less. Recent changes to state pension rules will remove contracted-out rebates from young people and use them to pay increased pensions to those