On Wednesday 1st March, the British Youth Council and The Body Shop UK held an All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) event in Portcullis House to launch the first ever Votes at 16 Manifesto “New Era for Democracy: A Pathway to Votes at 16”. I was able to go to this event with my younger brother.
For those who don’t know the aims of the Vote at 16 campaign, the ultimate purpose is to lower the voting age to 16 in England, by rallying support from the government and the general public. A Votes at 16 Youth Action Group has helped generate engagement in the campaign message, and several members of the group were in attendance at the APPG.
Ellie Whitwam, a Young Action Group member from Essex, applauds the existence of the group, saying, “Having a Votes at 16 Youth Action Group at the centre of the campaign is really important, as it ensures the campaign is youth led and celebrates youth voice.
“I am passionate about the campaign because it’s not an issue exclusive to young people. Our Manifesto for Votes 16 details benefits for all age groups, by stressing better access to political education – which will equip everyone with the confidence to vote”
The event started with speeches from Sir Peter Bottomley, MP for Worthing West, who wrote the closing statement to the Manifesto, Maddie Smith, Managing Director UK and Ireland for The Body Shop, Adele Leung, Deputy Chair of the Votes at 16 Youth Action Group, and Katie Burke, a British Youth Council Trustee.
As a collective, they outlined the three key themes of the Manifesto:
- We must increase young voters confidence in voting
- We must reduce the barriers for young voters participating in democracy
- We must ensure that the democratic system is accessible to young voters
All also reaffirmed sentiment expressed in the Manifesto that states many young people across the UK feel subject to a postcode lottery regarding voting rights, and that a significant segment of the population feel limited in their opportunity to have a say on the decisions that directly affect their future.
The floor was then opened up to questions, which were answered by Maddie, Katie and Adele. There were many great questions from members of the public and the selection of Members of Parliament in attendance. However, one particular question, which was directed by a young person to the supportive Members of Parliament in the room, stood out to me.
“How can we influence and persuade our MPs to support the campaign?”
The answer was an affirming one provided by Lloyd Russell-Moyle, MP for Brighton Kemptown. Russell-Moyle’s response was along the lines of repeatedly emailing and calling your MP, describing your purpose and explaining the benefits of lowering the voting age. He stressed the importance of not giving up, and stated that if you had no luck with your MP, you should try your local Councillor, as anyone in a strong position able to create change is valuable.
With 25 years of campaigning for the voting age to be lowered, I’m optimistic that the Votes at 16 Manifesto marks a change to the campaign’s stagnant situation. With The Body Shop’s ongoing involvement as B-Corp, we’re able to amplify our message as never before – and our case for support is underpinned by clear evidence.
The British government pride themselves as representatives of a developed nation, yet many other countries lead in this simple right to voting at 16. While there are definitely mixed views on lowering the voting age even with under 18 year olds, the vast majority want to see a change. As young people in England, we can join the army, have children and pay taxes. We are heavily influenced by laws passed without our opinion being consulted in the simplest way possible: voting.