Tuesday 5th June 2012
By Charley Finch MYP, Member of UK Youth Parliament for Central Devon and Exeter
At the moment some young people in the UK will have to wait until they are 23 years old to vote in a General Election. I am 17 and I will have to wait until 2015 until I get the vote. That may not seem like a long time to you but it is to me. By 2015 I hope to be at university and starting my future. In the next three years, the Government may change many things that affect me; the recent increase in tuition fees and the elimination of EMA have already had an impact on thousands of young people. If we lowered the voting age to 16 years old, all young people would be able to choose to hold their MP and Government to account at the ballot box by the time they turn 21.
At 16 we can go into work or training and start paying Income Tax, enlist into the army, give full medical consent and sexual consent but we still do not get a chance to help shape the society that we live in. The whole ‘big society’ concept was created to get everyone working together. But if you are a 16 and 17 year-old and want to be an active citizen and vote, you are excluded. A view commonly held by people of my age is that politics is for middle-aged men who just sit around doing nothing apart from ruining the futures of young people. I believe that more should be done to change this negative view of politics. I’m a Member of the UK Youth Parliament (UKYP) and we are having an increasing amount of young people running in our youth elections. Young people want to have a say on issues that they feel strongly about and we need to translate this energy into more young people voting.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that I believe everyone should have a vote from the day they were born. However, 16 is an age when many young people do care about what is happening to, and around, our country. 16 and 17 year-olds are just as mature and ready to vote as 18 and 19 year olds and other adults, too. Ultimately, there are no wrong votes at the ballot box. Legitimate choices are laid out on the ballot paper for voters to take, and 16 and 17 year olds should be able to make that choice. We need to be able to go out and use the citizenship education we have received and put that X in the box.
It has been 44 years since we last changed the voting age and let 18 and 19 year olds vote. The UK Parliament needs to change its old-fashioned thinking about the voting capacities of 16 year olds – like it eventually did about letting women vote. Why are we fighting another battle with young verses old?
Our country believes that responsibility comes with rights, not the other way around, so the question is why should young people become responsible and volunteer when we cannot vote? Giving young people the vote could be the trigger that helps young people get out there and make a difference. What this country needs now more than ever are active citizens to improve our societies. Not extending the vote to young people is taking this away from our nation.