Many young people might question why the introduction and then trebling of tuition fees wasn’t considered as politically risky as removing pension aged benefits, for example, or why the scrapping of Educational Maintenance Allowance (EMA) went through without comparatively much of a backlash.
It would be nice to explore the rich analysis and research behind all this, but the answer is as simple as the power of the ballot box. It would, after all, be a foolish politician who messes with the biggest group of people who actively turn out to vote.
At the last General Election more than 74 per cent of over 65s voted – compared with just 51 per cent of people aged 18-24. Even when turnout amongst young people fell to just 38 per cent in 2005, candidates could still rely on the over 65s: of whom 74 per cent cast their votes.
This week I’ve invited Oldham Youth Council to blog about this issue. I’ll now hand over to them to make the case for engaging young people and the importance of voting.
It’s true that voter apathy is a term often associated with young people.
In England, the youngest age group to be given the civil right to vote are the 18-24s. This demographic has the lowest voter turnout in the UK compared to an already poor turnout in general elections.
It’s unfair to assume young people are the only politically disengaged members of society as voter apathy is an issue affecting everyone. However, the low voter turnout does confirm youth disengagement within politics is a more urgent matter for us to address as a nation – because young people are the future of democracy. If we’re not engaged now, where does that leave the democratic processes the UK prides itself with in 20 years’ time?
The first steps in tackling this problem would be to lower the voting age and allow 16 and 17 year olds to have the right to vote in democratic elections within the UK.
There are more than 1.5 million 16 and 17 year olds who are currently denied the right to vote. Young people all over the UK have been campaigning for this to change since 2003. The main arguments in favour of lowering the voting age are as follows:
- You can be taxed as young as 16 to fund a government you aren’t able to vote into power
- This government will make decisions on our behalf. That affects our future and our generation more than it ever will theirs
- At 16, young people are already given many responsibilities in our society, like paying income tax and National Insurance, gaining welfare benefits, consenting to sexual relationships and joining the armed forces – yet we can’t vote for a party or politician to represent us in Parliament.
Those against the idea of lowering the voting age often pose the argument, how young is too young? Why 16, why not 12?
The simple answer is the principle of ‘no taxation without representation’. As pointed out earlier, 16 is already seen as a milestone in a young person’s life. We’re given so many responsibilities, so why aren’t we also given the right to be able to vote?
Another argument against the cause states that young people aren’t wise enough to make sound decisions on their own and that parents can represent their views effectively. This was the same argument posed to the suffragettes (i.e. men can make decisions on behalf of women) when they fought for the right to vote. Frankly, there is no difference between the intellect or competence of a 16-year-old vs an 18-year-old. Therefore, it’s unfair to disenfranchise a part of society when we’ve so clearly learnt it’s not democratic or inclusive.In the recent Scottish referendum 16 and 17-year-old young people were given the right to vote. Many of them used that right and the world didn’t end(!), so it’s time all the UK’s young people enjoyed the same right to vote in all elections.
Locally, Oldham Council has pledged their support to the Oldham Youth Council’s campaign for votes at 16. In 2013, the youth council posed a motion at Full Council around this issue and gained a positive pledge of support. Since then local authorities all over the UK have been inspired to do the same. This is an example of local democracy at its finest.
We have been involved in a lot of work around reviving the British youth vote through the ‘league of young voters campaign’. This aims to increase voter turnout in democratic elections for 18 to 24 year olds. So far we’ve been to colleges, schools and carnivals encouraging young people to get on the electoral register and make their mark.
Furthermore, last November saw Oldham Council as a local authority and Oldham Youth Council take part in the first meeting for the “Inter-cultural Dimension for European Active Citizenship” (IDEA-C). This is a response to the low voting turnout rate in EU elections, suggesting some European countries may face, or soon face, a democratic deficit. The project aims to restore electoral faith among EU citizens and chose 13 organisations/institutions each from different EU countries to take part. Oldham Council was able to share their best practice as a cooperative borough and Oldham Youth Council was used as an example of how local democracy can and will engage young people to be active citizens. We’re looking forward to organising and delivering an event for Oldham’s young people that will focus on reviving their participation in democracy and we need your help to do this.
The Youth Council strongly believes that young people and adults in our borough actively engaging in politics is the first step towards making the UK a more democratic place.
We urge all Oldham’s young people to get involved, get on the electoral register as soon as you are eligible, go to the polling stations and vote – have your say!
And if you’re reading this and thinking you don’t ‘do politics’, you do.
From the tax you pay on your trainers to the exams you have to sit, or the fact that there is no Education Maintenance Allowance and down to your views on the provision of youth facilities – that’s all politics and your voice counts.
If you want to learn more or get involved in the campaign please visit http://www.votesat16.org/
Thanks for listening,