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.