Blog: Yasmin Greenaway – ‘If young people cared they would vote’

7 Jun 2017

I hear this so often from people, in regards to what many view as young people’s political disengagement. Not only is this stance  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.

Yasmin Greenaway is a trustee of the National Youth Agency. This blog post first appeared on the British Youth Council’s website.