ACCORDING to the great poet Wordsworth, “The child is father of the man”. Certainly our beginnings often determine our future when it comes to education, jobs, housing, even long-term health.

Logical then, as cold winds and rain blow through Boris Johnson’s winter election, that we should pay great attention to the needs and hopes of our young people. After all, isn’t that a large part of what oldsters (including myself) are here for? To make sure those who come after us live better lives than we did?

Sadly, I fear youthful voices are too little heard as the election unfolds. Perhaps this is because the scale of the difficulties young people face is way beyond the experience of so-called Baby Boomers, a generation which benefited from exceptional levels of post-war prosperity, from well-funded public services and benefits to generally secure employment.

Ironically, from a global perspective, we live in a young person’s world. Roughly 41% of the global population of 7.7 billion is aged 24 or under. Yet in the West, including Britain, demographics lean the other way. In Europe, 16% of people are under 15, while 18%, double the world average, are over 65.

Add the fact older people have for decades tended to vote in far higher numbers than young people, and you have a perfect formula for ambitious politicians ignoring younger voters.

Which perhaps explains why under-30s face deep, systemic problems with getting started in life.

Take housing. According to the thinktank Civitas, the proportion of people aged 20 to 34 who live with their parents has risen from 19.48% in 1997, or 2.4 million people, to 25.91% in 2017, equating to 3.4 million. This is a damning statistic if we pause to consider the natural life cycle of the human animal. Leaving the parental nest for the trials of independence is a necessary stage. One that not only heralds most people’s journey towards starting families of their own, but learning essential skills for lifelong independence.

It is hardly surprising so many young people find themselves in inadequate and insecure housing, often hugely over-priced. Put bluntly, our society has for too long considered the purpose of housing to be investing rather than nesting. Developers, landlords and hedge funds have been gifted an unquestioned right to make a killing, often at the expense of ordinary people. The cost of this is primarily borne by two increasingly interchangeable groups, the poor (14 million officially live in poverty in the UK, including nearly 4 million children ) and young adults.

The only realistic answer is making available hundreds of thousands of publicly-owned, secure, affordable homes for rent. In short, to bring back the council house.

Housing is not the least of the younger generation’s problems. Compared to previous generations, they enter a world of insecure, pensionless work where the minimum wage is all too frequently the norm. Millions are burdened with insane levels of student debt. At the same time, society needs more skilled workers in order to increase the UK’s woeful level of productivity compared to our European neighbours.

They say youth is wasted on the young. But are we wasting too many people’s youth? That question should be at the heart of this winter election, if for no other reason than young people represent our collective future.

Whatever our age, as voters we have a moral and pragmatic duty to weigh up the different political parties’ policies in this area. Whether our children, grandchildren and young neighbours find their start in life helped or hindered depends on us all. In particular, we need to invest in our younger citizens currently consigned to poverty and missed opportunities by 10 years of austerity. A divided society is inherently an unhappy one, as recent history shows.

There is some good news. Since the election was called, unprecedented numbers of 18 to 35-year-olds have registered to vote, including 110,000 on a single day. And the recent climate strikes show they are leading older, less environmentally-aware generations towards a more sustainable, greener future. Young people are generally less racist, homophobic and more educated and inclusive than previous generations. It is high time their voices and priorities were put centre stage.