Voting on Europe – where under 18’s don’t matter
Today marks one calendar month before the EU Referendum. I received my polling card in the post today, but 1.5 million 16 & 17 year olds did not. This is a real tragedy for British politics and for our young people.
There are a number of reasons why I think this age group should have been allowed to vote:
- They are one of the most affected groups whenever policies are introduced or amended (e.g.: housing benefit; universal credit; definitions of being intentionally homeless)
- The law allows them to contribute to society in major ways – e.g.: they can get married and learn to drive
- They can bring fresh questions and perspectives to the debate – they are after all, the upcoming generation of soon-to-be adults
- They are old enough to look at information online and in other sources to help decipher the pros and cons of different political questions and candidates
An absence of any decision to lower the voting age is a real shame, because:
‘There is nothing more disempowering than not being able to influence decisions that impact you in your daily life’
This lack of trust in this age group may also translate to the apathy we are seeing from youth when they reach 18. Over 1 million 18-24 yr olds have yet to register to vote for next month’s key event.
Many organisations are seeking to lobby government and further educate young people on the political system and how it works, such as:
- British Youth Council & Votes at 16 Coalition – campaign to allow 16 & 17 year olds to vote #votesat16
- Voting Counts – informing young people about the political system and voting (run by students, for students)
Comments from my #SpeakUp4Youth hashtag on Twitter (every Tuesday 8-9pm GMT), have further highlighted the value of including this age group in the voting process:
— Winston Goode (@MistaGoode) May 17, 2016
@lauramclarty yes! they can work f/t, pay tax, join army, go to prison, get married, have kids, no sensible case for being unable to vote
— Matt Lent (@MattSL) May 17, 2016
I asked Matt Lent – Director of Partnerships and Policy at UK Youth*, to further expand on the importance of this debate:
‘Young people have proved time and again that they can take the responsibility of voting and engaging in democratic structures seriously. Thousands of young people already work hard to ensure their views are taken into consideration, through the work of the British Youth Council, UK Youth Parliament, UK Youth Voice, Student Voice, and others.
In Scotland they have reduced the voting age to 16 and seen levels of engagement soar. In England however 18 to 24 year olds have the worse voter registration levels of any age group.
Democratic engagement doesn’t start and stop with voting every 5 years, and it’s vital to begin to generate political understanding and enthusiasm at school age. Government needs to listen and respond to the younger population, giving 16 and 17 year olds the entitlement to vote is a sure way to have their opinions taken seriously.
There is quite simply no sensible argument for denying them the right to vote’.
*UK Youth is the largest national body for the youth sector, delivering informal educational opportunities for young people aged 9-25 years, living in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
In addition to the great work of UK Youth, the British Youth Council and others, there are also ways in which young people can get involved in very specific issues that may be affecting them. Readers of my blog will know that I am a long-term supporter of the amazing project Fixers, which aims to empower youth by creating responses to issues that have impacted on their lives. I also wholeheartedly endorse the work of Youth Employment UK, who run a Youth Ambassador programme, whereby individuals can provide peer-to-peer inspiration and support and also attend meetings at Westminster to discuss youth unemployment.
With so much good work aiming to facilitate youth voices, I’m hoping that the government will start to listen…
You can also read my related blog posts below, including details of The Children’s Society’s SeriouslyAwkward campaign, which is working towards amendments in the law for the protection of 16 & 17 yr olds from harm and neglect.
*Many thanks to Matt Lent, for giving his time to input into this blog post.