On the crisp morning of Wednesday, 11th October, I was honoured to have been part of an important conversation about the role of democratic engagement among young people. The roundtable brought together diverse perspectives in a bid to address a pressing issue in the UK’s political framework. In attendance were the Youth Voice Advocacy Group, members of the Votes at 16 Youth Action Group, and the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities.
Dive deep into contemporary UK politics and you’ll spot a concerning trend: the youth’s growing apathy towards politics and democratic processes. The recent ‘Votes at 16’ manifesto consultation, commissioned by the British Youth Council as part of their ongoing campaign to lower the voting age with The Body Shop UK, glaringly highlighted this disengagement. When posed the question, “Do you think that there are enough opportunities for young people to learn about politics and democracy at school?”, a staggering 85.3% of respondents expressed their dissatisfaction. Even more telling was the 91.8% who felt political parties and candidates don’t sufficiently engage with young audiences enough in the lead-up to elections.
The meeting began with a comprehensive presentation pinpointing barriers to democratic engagement. The crux of the issue? Education. A recurring sentiment amongst the members was that confidence in one’s democratic participation is inherently linked to their political education. Hence, there’s an urgent need for universal, standardised, and high-quality political education in schools. Such an education aims not just at increasing participation rates, but also bolstering confidence amongst the youth.
Our dialogue extended to other barriers, notably accessibility of polling stations, the debate over voter ID, challenges in voter registration, and a strong appeal for automatic voter registration. But beyond the tangible barriers, we also shed light on the more abstract ones – the feeling that policies pertinent to the youth often take a back seat, and the infamous ‘Westminster bubble effect’, which often makes politics seem like an exclusive club rather than an inclusive platform.
Propelled by these discussions, we put forth some actionable recommendations. These included the need for early enfranchisement, robust measures to combat misinformation, and of course, prioritising political education for the younger generation.
The culmination of the meeting was a group discussion that embodied the very essence of inclusivity. The passion was palpable – every individual, regardless of their background, came forward with invaluable insights, often drawing from their personal experiences. Political engagement at university, for instance, provided intriguing anecdotes on youth democratic engagement. The most heartening aspect? The unanimity in our voices. The discussions weren’t marred by disagreements, but rather buoyed by a collective aspiration to enhance youth engagement.
While many such roundtables end with mere deliberations, this one felt different. The government’s receptiveness to our suggestions gave me hope that our voices were not just heard, but truly valued. The synergy between different groups, combined with the productive exchanges, made the meeting not just successful, but also a testament to the power of collective advocacy.
In an era where young people’s association with politics is waning, conversations like these are not just important; they are imperative. Here’s hoping that the seeds sown today will bear fruit in the form of a more engaged, educated, and empowered youth, ready to shape the democratic future of the UK.