Brexit vote: Britain's wide generation gap

People hold banners during a 'March for Europe' demonstration against Britain's decision to leave the European Union, in central London.
People hold banners during a 'March for Europe' demonstration against Britain's decision to leave the European Union, in central London.PHOTO: REUTERS

Britain's generation gap could not have been wider at the June 23 referendum: 75 per cent of voters under 24 voted to stay in the EU, but only 39 per cent of those 65 and above did so. For older voters, it is the confidence that Britain can be strong on its own. But the young feel robbed of their future.

'Opportunities for next 20 years now taken away'

Remain camp

Liverpool native Adele Pollard, 23, with a friend. She voted for Remain and is most concerned about the effects that a Brexit would have on the already beleaguered National Health Service. PHOTO: ADELE POLLARD

Ms Adele Pollard, 23, has seen what European Union money has done for her hometown, Liverpool.

Over the past 30 years, the port city has risen from the ashes of post-industrial gloom and doom, transforming itself into an attractive, vibrant place with the most number of architecturally listed buildings outside of London.

The city itself, in north-west England, is a Unesco World Heritage Site, reaping great rewards for being designated by the EU as a European Capital of Culture in 2008.

Billions worth of EU funds have poured into Liverpool and its neighbouring boroughs since 1994, rejuvenating derelict buildings and restoring architectural gems, rebuilding the international airport, and investing in its public transport.

It is no wonder that on June 23, 58 per cent of Liverpool residents voted to stay in the EU. The neighbouring borough of Wirral, where Ms Pollard lives, also voted to stay.

But with 52 per cent of the country opting to exit the bloc, the dental nurse is worried about the future.

"I feel the whole country is literally falling apart in the space of a week," she said.

"We've got no actual leader. There's been a vote of no-confidence against Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn. Everyone's fighting each other and nothing is getting resolved. And no one seems to have a plan."

She is angry that the older generation of voters like her 89-year-old grandmother and 52-year-old mother, a cleaner, have chosen to leave.

"It's the Little England mentality, the 'we've got to make Britain great again' attitude," she said.

"They've helped take away opportunities for the next 20 years. I have a niece and a nephew and they are four and five years old. I'm annoyed by the fact that it will affect their education and healthcare."

She had just been travelling in Europe with her 21-year-old brother, who is looking for a job in Berlin.

"That probably isn't going to happen now."

The siblings tried to sway their mother's decision - her brother slyly left printouts around the house spelling out the benefits of EU membership. It didn't work.

Ms Pollard, whose friends all voted to remain, is most concerned about the effects that a Brexit would have on the already beleaguered National Health Service (NHS), England's publicly funded healthcare system. She will soon be a student nurse and plans to join the NHS after graduation.

"It is already so stretched and we're already in a nursing deficit of 20,000. If you take away people who aren't British-born, it is only going to get worse," she said.

Britain is one of the biggest employers of foreign nurses in Europe, with nearly 22 per cent of them born overseas. It also has the most foreign doctors, at 36 per cent, among major European nations.

The Brexit vote has not been the biggest political disappointment in her young life. When Ms Pollard was 18, she voted for the Liberal Democratic Party on its election pledge that it would oppose the proposal to raise tuition fees. It later broke its promise when MPs voted to allow universities in England to raise fees from about £3,000 to £9,000 (S$5,500 to S$16,000).

"My age group has been screwed over for pretty much everything."

The referendum was a drastic measure, she said, preferring that the country's leaders tried reform first without rushing into a vote.

Now that Brexit has become a reality, she fears EU money will dry up.

"There are lots of jobs that are linked to EU funding in this place. If we got rid of that, we will get rid of this culture."

'Immigration has ruined my hometown'

Leave camp

Boston resident Geoff Rylott, 70, whose town had the ignominy of being named the murder capital of England and Wales earlier this year, blames uncontrolled immigration for rising crime and depressed wages. ST PHOTO: TAN DAWN WEI

At first glance, Boston in Lincolnshire looks much like any other English town. A big Asda supermarket sits just across the railway station, a line of shops and eateries leads into the town centre, and a cathedral - albeit a stunning one - rises from the heart of it.

But, on closer look, those shops on the main thoroughfare of West Street all have un-English names: Baltic Food, European Express, Europe Market.

 Driving through his town, Mr Geoff Rylott, 70, shakes his head at just how much immigration, especially from Eastern Europe, has changed the landscape of the once sleepy market town in five years.

"Foreign shop, foreign shop, foreign restaurant, foreign barber, foreign shop, foreign shop," he rattles off, pointing to establishments left and right.  

"They've completely taken over this town. Immigration has ruined it."

Boston is home to the largest proportion of Eastern European immigrants in England and Wales. Poles, Lithuanians, Latvians and Romanians now make up more than 10 per cent of the town's population of 65,000.

Earlier this year, it had the ignominy of being named the murder capital of England and Wales, based on police figures, trumping London.

Mr Rylott blames it all on uncontrolled immigration - the key reason he and everyone else he knows in the town voted for Britain to leave the EU on June 23.

Boston had the country's highest number of Leave voters, at 75 per cent.

"You wouldn't dare walk through this town at night after 10 o'clock. You'll either get stabbed or raped," says the retired grafter and member of the UK Independence Party.

Every Wednesday and Sunday, he sees Eastern Europeans get dropped off at the Asda supermarket carpark by the bus loads.

Most end up working in the food processing industry, either cutting crops on farms or packing vegetables for the supermarkets.

They are willing to work on the minimum wage, says Mr Rylott, at £7.20 (S$12.90) an hour, and that has depressed wages in the town.

"They work very hard. I'm not decrying them working. I'm just saying the employers, farmers and pack houses have taken advantage of the cheap labour. These are the people who pull the price down."

Their numbers have strained public services and pushed up rents.

Mr Rylott says that as many immigrants are willing to pack themselves into the same space, often up to 10 in a three-bedroom house, one of these houses can go for £600 a week, two to three times the rent five years ago.

Residents complain of noise and poorly kept houses; there is graffiti on the town walls and groups of men regularly have drunken parties at the park, causing much nuisance, says the father of three.

"Boston people keep out of their way because they've brought fear to the town."

Mr Rylott feels abandoned by his government which he thinks is not protecting livelihoods in the farming and fishing industries, subjecting them instead to unfavourable EU laws such as those that restrict trawling to within a certain area.

"The Tories have walked all over us, and the councils tell you we're governed by London. Our hands are tied. That's all you get. But people have spoken now and London has had to listen."

He does not buy into arguments that exiting the EU will be disastrous for the British economy.

"That's the fear factor. It will go down but it will come up; that's the nature of the markets."

He just hopes that change will come soon enough.

"I'd hate to think what this town would be like in 25 years' time. I just can't see where it's going."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on July 03, 2016, with the headline ''Opportunities for next 20 years now taken away''. Print Edition | Subscribe