- 71% of young people don’t feel that political parties and candidates speak directly to young people enough in the lead-up to elections.
- A huge 76% believe that the voting age and eligibility should be the same for local elections across the UK – which is not currently the case.
- Half (49%) of young people in the UK believe that there aren’t enough opportunities to learn about politics and democracy at school.
- The British Youth Council and The Body Shop today launch their Manifesto: New Era for Democracy: A Pathway to Votes at 16, calling for systematic voting reforms.
Better political education, lowering the voting age to 16, and relaxed voter ID rules are the three biggest changes that young people want to help them to vote, according to new research from The British Youth Council and The Body Shop.
Currently, over 1.5 million 16-and-17-year-olds in the UK do not have a say in the decisions that will define their future, as they are denied the vote and excluded from broader political conversations. 71% of young people don’t feel that, in the run-up to elections, political parties and candidates speak directly enough to them.
The British Youth Council and The Body Shop and launch their new Manifesto, titled ‘New Era for Democracy: A Pathway to Votes at 16’. Endorsed by senior Conservative backbencher Sir Peter Bottomley MP, it sets out key policy recommendations for all political parties to adopt as policy by the next General Election to improve civic engagement, voter registration and political education amongst young people.
The recommendations are based on consultations with 16–18-year-olds, as well as a survey of 1,000 18–25-year-olds:
- Improve confidence in voting – through high-quality, standardised political education in schools and access to unbiased information at election times.
Nearly half (49%) of young people in the UK believe that there aren’t enough opportunities to learn about politics and democracy at school and over two-fifths (44%) recall not feeling knowledgeable on politics and democracy when they became old enough to vote.
At the same time, young people see their place of education as the most trusted source of information about elections – 64% say they trust it, compared to 62% who say they find the information found on social media untrustworthy.
The manifesto calls for unbiased, high-quality information to be provided to young people in schools to make sure they feel confident when they reach the ballot box.
- Include young people in the democratic system – by lowering the voting age to 16.
Almost a third (32%) of young people surveyed thought that lowering the voting age to 16 across the UK would be one of the most effective ways to encourage more young people to vote.
Currently, the voting age is 16 for local elections in Scotland and Wales, and 18 for England and Northern Ireland. It’s unsurprising that three in four (76%)1 of young people believe that this postcode lottery should be brought to an end, with equal voting rights across the UK.
Early enfranchisement will help ensure long-term political engagement and sustained voting behaviour throughout adult life. The manifesto calls to lower the voting age to 16 across all elections and referenda and enact automatic voter registration at 16.
- Improve accessibility of voting – by removing the unfair photo ID requirements that put younger voters at a disadvantage.
New legislation, requiring photographic ID at all future elections in the UK, puts young people at a significant disadvantage: young persons’ railcards and student cards are not valid forms of ID to vote but old bus passes and Oyster 60+ cards are.
A third (32%) of the young people surveyed thought that more accepted ID options when registering to vote would be one of the most effective ways to encourage younger voters.
The manifesto takes this a step further, calling for the removal of voter ID requirements to avoid further disenfranchisement of young voters.
Maddie Smith, Managing Director UK & Ireland at The Body Shop, said: “Young people’s representation impacts us all. They’ve already shown that they have the ideas, spirit, and commitment to drive positive change, so why shouldn’t they be able to do this within our democratic process?
“It’s vital that the decisions we make today are shaped by the people whose lives are most affected by them. The UK can lead the way in youth enfranchisement, but to do so we must look at systemic change, as outlined in this Manifesto, to open our democratic system and allow young people to enjoy their full rights as part of the electorate.”
Lucy Hulme, Chair of the Votes at 16 Youth Action Group, said: “Young people have been clear they want better political education, a lower voting age of 16, and relaxed voter ID rules – and we call on decision-makers to make this a reality.”
“For too long, young people across the UK have been disenfranchised and forgotten about under our current political system. Many feel unable to participate in key decisions about their futures – and this isn’t just because they’re not old enough to vote. We have a real opportunity to create a new era for democracy that we truly empower everyone in our society.”
Sir Peter Bottomley MP, said: “Our nation has consistently been one of the first to recognise the rights of the disenfranchised, and we should not be afraid to be at the forefront of progress once again.
“In this Manifesto, in schools, colleges and youth centres nationwide, people are rightly calling for the voting age to be lowered to 16 across the UK. Now, we as politicians must consider how best to empower the next generation of voters.”
The Manifesto’s full recommendations are as follows:
- Educate young people: High quality political education must be implemented in all schools, and complemented with practical experience provided in youth work settings
- Reduce misinformation: Access to unbiased information should be made available at election times, to combat misinformation
- Enfranchise early: The voting age should be lowered to 16 in all elections, in order to develop early voting habits in new generations
- Opportunities for young people to see themselves reflected: Young people’s political priorities should be reflected at Cabinet level, through a dedicated Youth Minister
- Promote an inclusive democratic system: Parties should use universal language and include young people in their manifestos
- Eliminate barriers to voting: Remove photographic voter ID requirements in all elections, enact automatic voter registration directly at the age of 16 when receiving notification of National Insurance
- Secure the future of voting: Expand polling day formats to include digital voting, voting in schools, and longer voting hours