Blogs and news about lowering the voting age to 16.
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.
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!
Today we heard the Government’s legislative plan via the Queen’s Speech. There was some good news, some expected news, and a huge missed opportunity.
The British Youth Council campaigned on six key issues in the run up to the General Election. These are the issues that young people have told us are important to them and they want to Government to listen.
So the good news is a commitment to reforming mental health legislation to ensure that mental health is prioritised in the NHS. Our Youth Select Committee in 2015 made recommendations to Government on issues such as funding, training for GPs, and support in education, and we look forward to seeing the detail of the new legislation.
We are also pleased to see a commitment to raising the National Living Wage. The recent Social Mobility Barometer highlighted that young people believe their future to be bleak, and proper and fair pay for work is crucial to this. So whilst the announcement today is good news we would like to see this go further, with the introduction of the real Living Wage, and a pay structure that does not discriminate by age.
As expected, there is a significant number of legislative proposals in relation to Brexit. This is going to dominate the political narrative over the next two years. Therefore Proposals around the great repeal bill, immigration and trade come as no surprise.
What is severely lacking is the government’s response to young people. The youth vote grew massively at this election, showing that young people care about political issues and will turn up when politicians show that are listening. What is missing from all the talk of Brexit is a commitment to putting young people at the heart of negotiations. We have written to the Prime Minister seeking an early to meeting to discuss how we can work to ensure young people are part of the process and not left behind.
Also missing is a commitment to invest in and listen to young people. BYC and the Votes at 16 Coalition have long been campaigning to lower the voting age to 16 in all public elections, complemented by comprehensive political literacy as part of a compulsory PSHE curriculum. This would ensure that all citizens understand our democratic processes and are prepared and empowered to play their part.
The British Youth Council are excited to welcome the new minister responsible for youth policy, Tracey Crouch MP. Crouch is taking over the Office for Civil Society following the departure of Rob Wilson who has been in charge of the brief since 2014.
The British Youth Council have worked under various Government departments since 2011 to deliver it’s Youth Voice programme. The Youth Voice programme, which is currently supported by Department for Culture, Media and Sport, includes UK Youth Parliament and Youth Select Committee.
The British Youth Council will be writing to welcome the Minister to the new role, however, will be highlighting concerns for the size of the brief which will include other responsibilities. It is our longstanding belief, that the Government should appoint a Minister solely responsible for young people – a role which has not existed since 2010.
Ife Grillo, Vice Chair – Participation and Development, British Youth Council said: “We can’t wait to continue our work with the Department for Culture, Media and Sport but we are particularly concerned about the size of Tracey Crouch’s brief and we’ll be seeking out reassurances at the earliest opportunity! We have repeatedly made it clear we believe a Minister for Youth should be appointed and we’ll be using this opportunity to highlight that issue again.”
We will also use this opportunity to remind the Government of the six issues we highlighted in the lead-up to the General Election which included the underfunding of youth services and the ensuring young people have a meaningful opportunity to influence Brexit negotiations which are due to start next week.
Anna Barker, Chair, British Youth Council said: “We look forward to working with Tracey Crouch going forward, to ensure young people’s voices continued to be heard by the Government. With the reported increase in young people turning up to cast their votes, it’s absolutely imperative that young people are given a chance to influence Government policy going forward!”
The British Youth Council are delighted to hear reports of a high youth turnout in the General Election. Politicians must drop their excuses and address young people’s concerns during this Parliament.
Decision makers across the country have repeatedly told young people that their voices will continue to be less of a priority until they turnout in elections. Now that young people have turned up, Members of Parliament must not only acknowledge young people but actively include them in the democratic process.
The British Youth Council wrote to political parties ahead of the General Election requesting their firm commitments to the six priorities set out in our General Election Manifesto. Young people want better mental health provision for young people, the introduction of a real living wage for everyone, the restoration of funding for youth services and an opportunity to influence Brexit negotiations.
Anna Barker, Chair, British Youth Council said: “Politicians have repeatedly told us our issues will become a priority when young people turnout. Young people have now sent a clear message! Members of Parliament must now address the core issues of young people!”
We’ve been warning politicians that they must use our vote or loose and this election may just serve as a share wake up call!”
The British Youth Council will be working hard to lobby Parliament and the Government – ensuring that young people’s issues remain a priority. Going forward the British Youth Council will be writing to the Prime Minister and the newly appointed Minister responsible for youth policy to ensure young people can influence policy at the highest levels of the Government.
Jake Pitt, Vice Chair – Campaigns and Communications, British Youth Council said: “It is now important that we continue to work closely with Government departments to address the key issues and ensure young people have a meaningful opportunity to influence our exit from the European Union. The election is just the beginning of the cycle, now we need to hold politicians to account!”
I hear this so often from people, in regards to what many view as young people’s political disengagement. Not only is this stance is overly-simplistic and lacking in nuance, it’s fatalistic. It takes no accountability for encouraging further political engagement via traditional, more visible and measurable channels. If this argument were the case one would have to ask, chicken-or-egg-style; what came first? The de-prioritisation of young people within policy and mainstream political channels, or the supposed disengagement of young people from said channels? It’s easy to draw loose correlations void of analysis, but if we truly care about empowering young people to be effective political actors we must do more.
An example of a small action that would contribute to removing obstacles from the paths of budding young political actors, would be to avoid calling elections in the middle of exam periods. Many students have flagged this as an issue; not just finding the time to physically vote during such a crucial point in our lives, but to go through the respective party manifestos to make a thoroughly informed decision, also taking the time to understand where votes would be most effective (in the constituency of their university address or permanent home). This requires a fair understanding of how our political system works, yet no party has taken responsibility for making political education compulsory. In spite of this, over 90,000 young people aged 18 to 24 registered to vote on the 21st May this year alone. Last year there was a 64% turnout for the same age group during the EU referendum (not too far off the average turnout).
A UNISON report has shown that between April 2010 – 2016 an estimated £387m was cut from youth service spending. We, as young people, have had to endure consistent chipping away of the provisions we need within society, from the disappearance of youth clubs, careers services and the merging of youth work with other social services and as a result a reduction in specialist youth work roles. Young people have endured the tripling of university fees, funding to support them in education such as EMA scrapped, alongside housing benefit being stripped from 18-21 year olds.
Young people’s contributions to society and experiences are often downplayed to our disservice. Our current Prime Minister recently ruled out lowering the voting age to 16 if her Party is re-elected into office on June 8th. At the age of 16 we are eligible to join the army, and eligible to pay tax in a country we are not given the right to vote in. A common argument raised here is that young people lack experience. Yet it is counterintuitive to expect anyone other than a young person to have a greater real time experience of what it is like to be a young person. Of course, it is impossible to do this area justice in one blog post, but I hope this highlights just a few things that we must all consider when it comes to empowering young people politically, so that we can have a strong and stable government, changing Britain’s future for the many not the few.