Is politics for young people?

Petra White-Gardiner, a final year BA (Hons) Youth Studies student, was invited to the Houses of Parliament for the launch of a report posed by nineteen-year-old Kenny Imafidon on young people and their engagement in politics.

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Voting for Young People

Petra White-Gardiner, a final year BA (Hons) Youth Studies student, was invited to the Houses of Parliament as part of her involvement in a youth participation support network called Chat' Bout and the launch of a report posed by nineteen-year-old Kenny Imafidon on young people and their engagement in politics. The report is titled 'The Kenny Report Two: Is "Politics" for young people?'

The report, described by Lord Tyler as 'a formidably argued wakeup call to politicians', presents a clear case for the Government to lower the voting age from 18 to 16 and allow 16 and 17 year olds to vote in all public elections and referendums. Last year Lord Tyler introduced the "Voting Age (Comprehensive Reduction) Bill" to the House of Lords with its aim to extend the franchise for parliamentary and other elections, and for referendums, to all citizens over the age of 16 years old. The Bill had its second reading in October 2013.

During her time at the Houses of Parliament for the launch of the report, Petra listened to various speeches from MPs and staff from the House of Lords. Petra and other attendees were also given the opportunity to challenge a panel of key people in the hope to get a clearer understanding as to why they feel we should promote and encourage young people in our local areas to vote.

Petra, commenting on the experience, said: "I took this opportunity as a chance for me to network and also gain wider knowledge of politics. I will definitely be encouraging many of my friends, family and the wider community of young people to engage in voting next year."

Angela Vesey, lecturer on the BA (Hons)Youth Studies course commented on the report and the growing debate surrounding the voting age.

"Why is it possible for young people to go to prison at ten, give full consent to medical treatment at 16, leave school and enter work or training at 16, pay income tax and National Insurance at 16, obtain tax credits and welfare benefits in their own right at 16, consent to sexual relationships at 16, get married or enter a civil partnership at 16, change their name by deed poll at 16, join the armed forces at 16, become a CEO of a business at 16, become a member of a trade union or a co-operative society, apply for their first adult passport at 16, but they cannot vote at 16?," she said.

But are young people really that interested in voting? It is true that voting participation is at an all-time low, not least amongst young people with more than half of those registered to vote, not exercising their right. We also know that nearly half of all 18-24 year olds are currently not on the electoral register. Many young people lack awareness of the need to be registered to vote. Kenny Imafidon cites the Hansard Audit of Political Engagement 10 (2013) Report which shows that just 12% of young people in our society are certain to vote if there were to be an election tomorrow. However, he also argues that there is overwhelming evidence to suggest that young people are interested in politics, it's just that it may not be party politics and that 'young people are expanding their political engagement through many mediums, from consumer politics and community based protests, to calls for reforms or challenging cuts to youth services'. He affirms that the problem is not that young people are not interested or engaged in politics; it is that most politicians do not engage or consult with young people when making decisions that disproportionately affect them.

Kenny points to other legitimate arguments for the vote at 16. Under the United Nations Conventions on Rights of the Child, which the UK are a signatory of, Article 12 states that the 'views of the child being given due weight in accordance with the age and maturity of the child.' With the opportunity to be heard in any judicial and administrative proceedings affecting the child… in a manner consistent with the procedural rules of national law. Arguably then the right to vote could be considered a human right for all young people.

He acknowledges that there is still work to be done to encourage young people to engage politically. The promotion of active citizenship education in the curriculum has been identified as a key vehicle by both Kenny and others in facilitating political participation. But as Lord Tyler points out, there is considerable irony in teaching young people about their civic duties but denying them the right to exercise their say in our democracy.

Kenny has clearly done his homework. He effectively shreds the arguments of the opposition citing the experience of Austria where 59 percent of 16 to 18-year-olds recently voted in the elections with the turnout of that group the same as any other age group of voters.

However, should the Bill be successful he concedes the challenges ahead, rationally concluding that 'lowering the voting age to 16 will not eradicate voter apathy amongst young people, but it will take us a step closer to engaging and inspiring young people to be registered and to vote, and ultimately to stand as candidates for political elections'.

Is politics for young people?

Published on 16 April 2014
  • Category: School of Social Sciences

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