Headlines: February 10th, 2005

Political parties are being told today they should listen to voters who are over 55, two thirds of whom say they are absolutely certain to go to the polls in the General Election compared with just 39 per cent of 18-54 year olds who will do so, according to new research by Age Concern and ICM.The research shows there are about 2.6 million voters aged 55 or over who are still undecided about which way they will vote so politicians face a fierce battle to win the support of the older vote. Age Concern says it could be those over 55 who will decide the outcome of the election, definitely not the one in four people under the age of 34 who say they certainly will not vote.

The charity says age does not determine how people will vote but the opinions of over 55s unite around some key areas of concern. A poll shows that 57 per cent want the government to focus on pensions, while the same number see the NHS as the most important issue. A third want the focus to be on the economy, slightly fewer – 32 per cent – cite public services and just a quarter see tax as the key issue.

Age Concern says political parties and candidates must demonstrate clearly how they will deliver a better deal to older people. Failing to do so could cost them dearly at the ballot box. Gordon Lishman, Director-General of Age Concern, says the parties cannot afford to take for granted the votes of people over 55. “If a decisive blow is struck at the General Election, it will come from the older voters who can be relied on to turn out but are increasingly prepared to switch their vote,” he adds.

Older people want to see manifesto commitments that will make a difference to their lives, he says. Political parties need to realise that unless they address the demands and concerns of older people they will not attract or keep their votes.

The study shows that 69 per cent of people aged 55 or over say they always vote in a General Election, compared with 17 per cent 18 to 24-year-olds, 27 per cent of those aged 25 to 34 and 44 per cent of people from 35 to 54. Only 2 per cent of the 55 plus group say they never vote while among 18 to 24 year olds and the 25 to 34 age group the figure is 14 per cent.