Blogs and news about lowering the voting age to 16.
Today’s debate in the House of Commons on Votes at 16 was a disappointment for young people across the UK.
The debate was preceded by a fantastic bill from Steve Reed MP on the use of restraint in mental health facilities. It was fantastic to hear such a great discussion on mental health, and particularly the use of restraint on young people and people from black, Asian and minority ethnic communities. There was great support across the house for improving mental health provision, support and prevention, so much so that one MP described it as ‘violent agreement’!
But what was disappointing that this great sense of agreement did not lead to an earlier vote, giving time for votes at 16 to be properly debated. After around an hour and half parliament ran out of time and the debate ended without a vote. Whilst the vocal support for mental health is welcomed we are disappointed that yet again the opportunity to extend the franchise to 16 and 17 year olds has been kicked into the long grass yet again.
So many young people have been campaigning on this issue for many years. And it is testament to the work of Members of Youth Parliament and British Youth Council member organisations like NUS that so many MPs committed to turn up and support the bill today.
But this does not mean that the fight for votes at 16 is over. The bill may yet get its day in Parliament, and has been rescheduled for 1 December 2017. And this Private Members Bill has really put the spotlight back onto the issue, raising awareness of the importance of young people having a voice, and the necessity of citizenship education to develop an informed and engaged electorate.
The Votes at 16 Coalition, facilitated by the British Youth Council, will continue to argue the case for votes at 16. Support is growing, with more council passing motions in support. Just this week Belfast has become the latest city to pass a motion in support of votes at 16. And we look to Wales where they have been consulting on whether to lower the voting age to 16 for elections to the Assembly.
Valuing youth voice is crucial to increasing the engagement of young people in society and democracy. Extending the right to vote to 16 and 17 year olds, combined with a curriculum for life that builds young people’s knowledge and understanding of the political process, is an essential step on the road to ensuring that decision makers to talk to young people, not about them.
At sixteen, individuals can get married, pay their taxes and sign up to risk their lives in our armed forces, but they cannot exercise their basic democrat right to vote. Isn’t it time that we follow in Scotland’s footsteps and introduce a lowered voting age of sixteen? I and the Lib Dems think yes and we are determined to fight for this in this Parliament.
The 2017 General election saw the largest youth vote in 25 years, finally discrediting the narrative that young adults are either too lazy or immature to vote. We can, however, do better. By extending the franchise to those 16 and 17 year olds we can expand our national conversation to some of the most disenchanted and side-lined individuals in our nation. The 2014 Scottish referendum for example brought thousands of young scots into the fold, now we are experiencing some of the highest youth turn outs in Scotland for generations. The ability to inspire at a young age has resulted in greater engagement at elections since. We currently have over one and a half million sixteen-seventeen year olds in the UK, to be able to inspire even half of these individuals to continue voting would result in a significantly higher turnout than many of our past elections. Such a generational shift could even change the age-old story of pensions before education which has shaped the political world for many years.
On the topic of education, many critics of this idea have suggested that teachers and schools will be able to exercise influence over individuals. As a former teacher myself, I can say that all my colleagues entered the profession to educate not control. I prided myself on being fair and unbiased individual, there to facilitate open debate. My job was to equip them to make their own decisions. Any suggestion otherwise is a slight on the whole profession.
To those who suggest that sixteen-seventeen year olds are just not ready for the vote, who think they are just not matured enough for this responsibility, I suggest they look no further than our Youth Parliament. It is here, a place with children as young as eleven, that you will find some of the most passionate and inspiring individuals. It certainly puts some of my own colleagues to shame. This is by no means an isolated occurrence, young adults across the country are increasingly aware and involved in politics. It is these young adults that will one day contribute to our pensions, staff our hospitals and pay the taxes which our government needs. Therefore, it is necessary that we act in their best interests to secure our countries future.
Our young adults are ready to take the reins, to have a say in a future which will be dominated not by us but by them. Therefore, I fully support the lowering of the voting age to sixteen. Let’s change the old proverb of out of touch youths and create a new generation of political aware and enthused young adults. Let’s get inclusive and work towards a better future for all generations.
We’ve been talking about possibly lowering the voting age for a long time without much change, and I think this Bill (Representation of the People (Young People’s Enfranchisement and Education) Bill 2017-19) is the perfect opportunity for our democracy to make a great stride forward. As we know, you currently have to be 18 or older to vote in all elections in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, but notably not Scotland. When I was in Scotland campaigning before the Independence referendum in 2014, I was blown away by the enthusiasm of the young people who had finally been given an opportunity to really get involved as 16- and 17- year olds were allowed to vote. In fact, 89% of all 16 and 17 year olds registered to vote – clearly defying the far-too-common expectation that they wouldn’t be interested in engaging anyway.
I often hear that individuals under the age of 18 lack the maturity to vote but I strongly disagree, and furthermore, if we consider 16 year olds suitable for tax-paying, putting their lives on the line in the armed forces, marrying and working full-time, then how can we not see them as adult enough to elect those who make the decisions which affect all of those important aspects of their day-to-day lives?
Our most recent general election only solidified this view that I’ve had for a long time, as turnout for 18-24 year olds increased by 16%. There’s a clear appetite in young people to be involved in the democratic process and I think it’s about time we allowed it to improve our democracy. Over 1.5 million 16- and 17-year-olds in the UK are not represented by a vote, about 2.3% of the total population. Instead of denying them access to democratic involvement and alienating them from the process, we should be seeking to engage and empower these young citizens to gain interest in the political system. With 16 and 17 year olds required to be in education, employment and training making this change in the law would give us a golden opportunity to not only enfranchise young people but to equip them with the knowledge and skills to exercise this new right thoughtfully. We have the opportunity to create a foundation for further democratic impact later on in life, if now we allow these young people to vote.
On your 16th birthday you are legally deemed ‘mature enough’ to be able to undertake a multitude of responsibilities; these include joining the armed forces, paying taxes, changing your name, having sex or even getting married. This list goes on.
Importantly, young people don’t just care about youth issues. There is a perception that young people will naively vote for politicians that promise more youth clubs, lower drinking ages and similar themes. This is not the case. Yes young people care about the things that affect them, as do any age group, but they also see the bigger picture locally, nationally and internationally. They cite the refugee crisis, technological advancements and how to live in a global economy. Young people overwhelmingly have an optimistic outlook on the future, and thank goodness as by 2020 50% of the workforce will be millennials, pushing for a brighter and more prosperous world.
My next thought; if you don’t think young people are equipped enough to make this decision, instead of segregating them, try asking them what support and education they need. Votes at 16 is not a campaign that assumes giving 16 and 17 year olds the right to vote is the silver bullet to engagement across young people in politics. But, it could well be the start. Ask us what we want and need to know about our democracy and political structures, so we can educate each other and engage all member of society from an early age. The impact of this could be phenomenal.
So much of this focuses on whether young people are mature enough, informed enough or if they’ve had enough ‘life experience’ to form an opinion. When was the last time adults questioned their ability to form a rational opinion? The debate always leads to questioning young people and outing them under a moral microscope, yet we never ask the same question to older citizens. What is society doing to ensure everyone is receiving a fair and unbiased education on politics, democracy and voting?
If you are still unsure as to why young people’s voices matter I beg that you go and ask a young person what they think. Not just about school, youth clubs and youth issues; but about the economy, globalisation, jobs. And not just 16 and 17 year olds, ask a 12-year-old, even a 9 year old what they think. Ask them why they think this and how they formed this opinion, why they care and what experiences they have had so far. I guarantee that you will be shocked and pleasantly surprised at the thoughtfulness, the inquisitiveness, boldness and perhaps the shyness in their views.
What we need is a country that wholeheartedly supports and listens to young people, and Votes at 16 is a sharp step in the right direction to make this a reality.
UpRising is a UK-wide youth leadership development charity. Our mission is to open up pathways to and employment for a diverse pool of young adults from under-represented backgrounds who have talent, but lack opportunity.
In 2017, Demos published a report stating that only 37% of young adults in the UK feel that British politics reflects the issues that matter to them, and that there is mistrust in the political system. Our own research reflects these findings. Young people, particularly those from diverse, underrepresented backgrounds, often feel disengaged from power structures and disempowered when it comes to having their needs heard or addressed.
“I was stuck…I wanted an opportunity to build my confidence. Beforehand, I thought ‘you can’t do much’ but I’ve realised how the little things [in my community] really matter” UpRiser, Manchester Programme 2016-17
When it comes to politics, young people are incredibly passionate about making a change in the world around them, and care deeply about what happens in their local communities. However, they may not consider politics to be relevant to their lives and do not see the value in learning about it. There are barriers of access and relatability, and UpRising aims to address these by providing young people with the confidence, skills, networks and knowledge to help them to become more democratically engaged and have their voices heard on issues that affecting them, their peers and communities.
One example of how UpRising has been tackling this important issue is our My Voice My Vote project, which successfully registered 8000 first time voters in two months before the 2015 General Elections. Before the project, only 21% of participants had registered to vote. Through knowledge workshops, designing and delivering social community campaigns, and visiting media and political organisations for expert training on democratic campaigns, this statistic rose to 40%.
We also know that once young people have voted a first time, they are more likely to vote in the future. With 2017 seeing the largest youth voting turnout in 25 years, Votes at 16 will help catalyse this fantastic progress in getting younger generations engaged, vocal and voting for what they believe in. We hope that Votes at 16 will be part of a wider societal power shift; 50% of Cabinet politicians were privately educated, and our MPs comprise of only 29% women, and 6% black and minority ethnic (BAME) groups.
Ultimately, we need more diverse representation, and Votes at 16 is integral in changing the face of politics in Britain today and in the future. Our experience shows that the best way for young people to learn about politics is to get involved, and removing the age barrier is one fundamental way to achieve this goal. Votes at 16 will empower 16 and 17 year olds, increase their self-awareness and knowledge of the political system, and build confidence to identify which issues are most important to them and have a voice in changing these.
One of the most effective pillars of our successful 2017 General Election campaign in Ipswich was our targeted and school-specific information on the real-terms cuts to school income proposed in the Tories’ so-called “Fair Funding” proposals. But while I gained a great deal from standing with Labour campaigners outside many of the Primary Schools in Ipswich and meeting the parents who were angry about the attacks on their children’s education, the most enjoyable day of the whole campaign didn’t involve parents at all.
Angela Rayner visited Ipswich and together we witnessed democracy in action. Sidegate Primary School organised a school election. The three classes in the 5th year acted as political parties, selected leaders, wrote manifestos, made party political broadcasts which were shown to the other children, and we were invited to their hustings at which the rival candidates for “School Prime Minister” spoke to the other children and took questions on their platforms. And the platforms were real platforms – the school fund has made money available so that the new “School Prime Minister” can fulfil the practical and fully-costed pledges she made in her campaign – so very different from the real Prime Minister! Despite feeling extremely tired by that time, I was thrilled to be given a personal guided tour of the school fete by the newly elected Prime Minister on the Saturday morning after my own election as MP for Ipswich.
This level of engagement is unusual for primary schools, but it is becoming more usual in secondary schools, and quite rightly so. More and more secondary schools are holding elections for school councils and genuinely empowering their school council members to have a real effect. Learning about democracy is crucial for all of our children and young people, but actually participating in it themselves is, I believe, a far more effective way of embedding the concepts of democratic decision-taking and of voting for representatives and holding them to account.
But how much more seriously teenagers would take such democratic engagement if they were themselves about to vote in real elections for their local Borough Council or Member of Parliament. It is often said that the electorate were more informed about the issues in 1945 than ever before, because prior to demobilisation so many servicemen and women took part in discussion groups and classes in history and politics. Above all, they were able to discuss the issues amongst themselves, and were not dependent on opinions fed to them through the mainstream media.
The same dynamic applies in schools. We know that if young people vote at their first possible election they are likely to carry on voting. We also know that a majority of under-25s still do not vote at all. If most young people cast their first vote while still at school, the level of engagement and support they would have during the election period, and the extent to which they could discuss the issues and make a decision based on something other than the Sun Editorial or on the views of their parents, would be massively enhanced. And the likelihood is that, having voted for the first time in a situation where their classmates are also voting and will encourage them with a level of group expectation, they will then continue to vote once they are out in the world on their own.
I believe by introducing votes at 16 we could reverse the trend for lower and lower turnout levels, and come to expect the proportion of teenagers and twenty-somethings who regularly vote to be as high – or higher – than their parents. But even more importantly, I believe that enabling the first vote that people make to be within the context of education, we will start to finally break away from the superficial tribalism that has characterised twentieth-century democracy, and forge a new democratic relationship with the voters which is based on them actually thinking about the issues before voting.
The teenagers of today will one day rule the world – and the older generation have a responsibility to them today by paving the way to help determine the future for us all be that in industry, business, politics or the community.
Just a few short years ago, I was frustrated that only a very small handful of young people took any interest in the world outside their own – but the recent surge in the numbers not just showing an interest, but actively engaged in politics, has exceeded my hopes and expectations.
We saw them out on the streets of Stockton during the general election, talking to people of all ages but most important of all, reaching and engaging with other young people drawing them in and helping them understand how politics affects all our lives.
But many of those young people, old enough to work and pay taxes too, were denied the ultimate tool to influence the future – the right to vote.
It is time for the change to be made.
I am continuously and pleasantly surprised at the determination and resilience of the young people in our society today. We live in a challenging and ever-changing world, and I believe it is more important than ever before that young people have a say in the decisions of today which will affect them tomorrow.
Votes at 16 has been thrown around and debated for years, and has been ignored by successive Governments. But I believe attitudes may finally be changing. There are all manner of “adult things” that 16 year olds can or have to do – they can even join the armed forces and fire guns. It’s foolish to say that they don’t deserve to be able to vote because they’re too young.
Yes, we need real political and financial education in schools to help equip our young people for the future – but I don’t doubt that 16 year olds are extremely well equipped to have a real say over what issues affect them, and give them the power to make change in their own communities.
I trust the young of today to be those leaders of tomorrow. But, in order to lead with confidence and strength, they need our support now.
The British Youth Council and Votes at 16 Coalition are supporting a renewed attempt to lower the voting age across the UK. On Friday 3 November, Parliament will debate a Private Members’ Bill which is set to enable all 16 and 17 year olds a chance to vote in all UK elections and referenda. The bill is sponsored by Jim McMahon MP, who has been a passionate supporter of enfranchising 16 and 17 year olds after listening to young people from Oldham Youth Council.
The announcement of the Private Member’s Bill has galvanised young people into action, seeing young people lobbying their MP to attend the debate. Many MPs have announced their support for the bill, including Diane Abbot MP, Caroline Lucas MP, and Sir Peter Bottomley MP.
Jim McMahon MP, Member of Parliament for Oldham West and Royton, who sponsored the Private Members Bill said: “It was only right that I let young people decide the topic of my Private Members Bill. For too long their voices have been left behind, and so I tasked Oldham Youth Council with debating and then choosing this topic – and I’m glad they chose ‘votes at 16’.
“I welcome the debate on lowering the voting age. A debate about, once again, spreading the freedoms and responsibilities of our society to many more people”.
Anna Rose Barker, Chair, British Youth Council said: “It’s extraordinary that we’re still having to make the case for lowering the voting age to 16. We cant continue to deny 1.5 million young people their chance to influence democracy.
“I’m really hoping MPs from across the House of Commons support this Bill because it’s about time we enfranchised 16 and 17 year olds in all elections and referenda”
The campaign for lowering the voting age began 18 years ago, in this time a number of MPs and Peers have used their influence and processes available to them to push the campaign forward. Despite the high turnout of 16 and 17 year olds in the Scottish Independence Referendum, 1.5 million young people were denied a vote in the EU Referendum, one of Britain’s largest constitutional decisions in recent history and in the General Election which took place earlier this year.
Over 100 Members of Parliament from across the UK pledged their personal support to promote awareness of the UK Youth Parliament’s Make Your Mark ballot. The nationwide vote has been ‘open’ to anyone aged 11-18 years old since Friday 10th August 2017. Young people taking part shortlisting what is debated in the House of Commons chamber by Members of Youth Parliament on Friday 10th November 2017. The vote closes on Friday 6th October 2017 and you can find out more and cast your vote online here: www.ukyouthparliament.org.uk/makeyourmark
Support included Minister for Sports and Civil Society, with responsibility for youth policy, Tracey Crouch MP and British Youth Council Honorary President, Wes Streeting MP. You can find pictures of the Members of Parliament who pledged their support on Facebook.
The ballot will contain 10 policies voted for by Members of Youth Parliament including mental health and lowering the voting age, which reflect their election pledges in local elections across the UK earlier in the year. The campaign will see Members of Youth Parliament and volunteers across the country, invite young people in schools and youth clubs to take this opportunity to have their say and to inform and influence Government and decision makers in their communities.
The Commons debate will take place on 10th November, and will be chaired by The Rt Hon John Bercow MP, Speaker of the House of Commons, who recently spoke at the UK Youth Parliament’s Annual Sitting in York. Young members will then walk through the division lobbies to vote on what should be a become their priority campaigns for 2016/17. In recent years they prioritised “Mental Health” and “Tackling Racism and Religious Discrimination”.
Young people can take part in the consultation by visiting: www.ukyouthparliament.org.uk/makeyourmark
On Friday 28th July 2017, members of the UK Youth Parliament gathered together at Liverpool Hope University for its Annual Sitting 2017. The event was a major success with over 250 Members of Youth Parliaments (MYPs) attending the programme. The Annual Sitting is a weekend that every MYP looks forward to, and they were not let down!
The opening ceremony kicked off festivities with MYPs being informed about what their weekend was to entail, they had an emotional speech from representatives of the Holocaust Educational Trust and they were even treated to the now infamous Procedure Group dance! With positivity and passion, MYPs experienced their first regional and national meeting of the weekend, with their Procedure Group leading the session, ably supported by their Youth Democracy Co-ordinator. This was an effective session as Members of Youth Parliament developed a greater understanding of the Big Vote and their role in shaping the UK Youth Parliament manifesto. With the first Big Vote session less than 12 hours away, MYPs were set an overnight task that aimed to develop their public speaking skills; topics for MYPs to speak on ranged from Votes at 16 to their own policy motions for the next day to their own topic, just with the proviso that they delivered their speech with passion.
Refreshed for the next day, MYPs woke up to a speech from the Right Honourable John Bercow MP, Speaker of the House of Commons, who spoke eloquently on the issues of modernising parliament, the importance of having a youth voice and why he is personally so passionate about the Youth Parliament. It was an honour and a privilege for the Procedure Group team to host Mr Bercow’s visit to the Annual Sitting and I’m sure that all MYPs would agree that his words of wisdom will stay with us for a long time.
The afternoon Q&A Session was also a huge success. The panel spoke about a range of issues including Brexit and Votes at 16. The panel was chaired by former member of Parliament Julie Hilling. We thank all of the panellists for their time.
The Big Vote sessions were the major highlight of the weekend, with MYPs from across the country coming together in order to discuss issues facing young people. The quality of debate was incredible on both days with key points being made on each motion. MYPs passed 16 motions over the weekend, which means that they are now in the UK Youth Parliament manifesto. Members of Youth Parliament will now use the manifesto to prioritise their top ten issues; the top 10 most voted for issues will feature on this year’s Make Your Mark ballot, which is being launched nationwide on August 12th. The Big Vote is such a key part of the UK Youth Parliament calendar and MYPs should be proud of their debates this year!
Ultimately, Annual Sitting 2017 was a huge success. Members of Youth Parliament had a brilliant weekend and on behalf of the Procedures Group, we had a great time leading your workshops and your other sessions (especially delivering the Procedure Group dance!!). #UKYP17 was brilliant, let’s keep up the passion and deliver to our constituents!