Should Young People Vote At 16

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Photo taken from BBC website

Today I would like to discuss about the debate about what age young people should be able to vote. The media were overtaken by all the major news station such as, BBC, LBC ITV on the topic whether young people are ready to vote at the age of 16. We are aware that there has been a long-standing debate on lowering the voting age to 16 – which would affect more than 1.5 million teenagers in the UK.

Labour MP Sadiq Khan has made his view very clear in this debate. He has said that….”Lowering the voting age to 16 will re-energize political debate”

He further goes on to say that he does not …”agree with those who say young people aren’t interested in politics, or somehow aren’t mature enough to have a say in how the country is run” Most of the Major political parties have also made the views open as to what their stance is and also Included in their manifesto. For example The Lib Dems “promised the change in their 2010 manifesto. The Conservative Party has historically opposed the move.”

A BBC Reporter writes that “Proponents of the reduction argue 16-year-olds can live on their own, get married, pay taxes and join the British army. They point to countries such as Austria, Germany, Norway, Argentina and Brazil where voting at 16 is common practice.”

Whilst on the other hand some people argue that there are generational shift which is slowing down the development of young people. Youths in society are now going to school for “longer, joining the workforce at an older age and getting married later.” Source: www.bbcnews.com

If we have a look at the  figures which suggests that turnout tends to be lower amongst younger voters.

“A snap poll by Lord Ashcroft the day after the referendum – when Scotland voted against independence by 55% to 45% – found that 71% of that age group voted “Yes”. But the sample size was only 14.There is not a shred of evidence for arguing now that 16 and 17-year-olds should not be allowed to vote..” Source: www.bbcnews.com

Dr Jan Eichhorn, from Edinburgh University’s School of Social and Political Science,“There was a suggestion 16 and 17-year-olds would vote differently, be governed by national identity and ideology, but surveys ahead of the vote showed the most important thing to them was exactly the same thing that was most important to adults – the economy.” 

Now that begs that question what role do we as youth workers play in the debate?. what are our thoughts on that? what information do we have in relation to how we view this. do we agree or disagree that young people are ready to vote at this age. Are the youths of this society ready, and if they are what is the youth work profession doing to highlight this in the mainstream media.

My question is how much of it is that we as youth workers doing to involve young people in this discussion regardless of their age. I believe young people should be exposed in a safe environment to have a healthy debate and discussions about various political parties in UK. As professional youth workers, managers, practitioners, academics of youth work, we should be advocating this and implementing it into our learning and in our youth work programmes, activities,workshop. more importantly it should be embedded in all the statutory youth services policy. Young people should not be forced or given a carrot to take part in the political programme but more importantly it should be on a voluntary basis, in this way we can have active participation from our young people attending the youth clubs

I have worked and visited numerous places as a youth worker and also as a manager. I have seen that this is lacking in majority of the youth centres and find youth workers are not including this into their programmes. There could be a 101 reason why it’s not included but that shows that the programme was not thought through thoroughly. sometimes it helps to think out of the box trust me.

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Picture taken from the New Statesman website

Well I hear you say that you know the answer. Sam… we are doing this as part of our participation and democracy policy/strategy. Ok Really I see and read about the work youth services across the country doing in involving young people in decision-making. Now really let’s be honest is that democracy or is just another tick box activity undertaken so that we can say we have involved young people in democracy. On the other hand I have also seen many youth services taking an active role in embedding the process of engaging young people in democracy and creating a platform for them to actively take part, for example Tower Hamlets Councils integrated Youth And Community Service through their Young Mayors Scheme. The council worked closely  with the British Youth Council to develop their strategy.

When we are developing our strategy, are we including the right people in the process who are promoting and campaigning for young people. We should be working in partnership with other youth services who are already established and running scheme. This will enable us to evaluate what worked and what improvements can be made. More importantly how can this model work in our service.

I came across an article during my brief research into the topic and how other organisations are actively campaigning such as the British youth council who welcomes Labours pledge to introduce young people to be able to vote at 16 years old. This what they have said…

“Following the British Youth Council’s Youth Select Committee YES recommendation, lowering the voting age to 16, the leader of the Labour Party, Ed Milliband MP, pledged that they would introduce votes for 16 legislation in the first year of a new Parliament, ready for elections in May 2016.”

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Photo taken from BYC website

A quote from the New Statesman sums it up for me…

“If At the age of 16 a British citizen can legally have sex, get married, join the army, smoke, leave home, claim benefits, and contribute to the public purse through taxes – but vote in a general election”

If the young people can do the above then we should allow young people to make their own choices when it comes to who they want to vote and which party they want to support. We need to develop and prepare young people to become independent thinkers and make their own choices in life, is this not the purpose of our work. As youth workers we should be at the forefront actively promoting and advocating young people’s rights.

If you liked what you have read please join us and promote/advocate young people’s right. Leave your comments below and join the discussions. If you liked the blog please share with others!

The views and opinions shared in this blog is my own views and it is in no way the views of youthworknews.com

By Sam Long

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