THE BLOG

A Silent Crisis? Up to 84% of London's Youngest Voters Missing From the Electoral Register

13/03/2016 20:49 GMT | Updated 12/03/2017 09:12 GMT

There's a silent, growing democratic crisis in London - the plummeting levels of young people who are registered to vote. As up to 84% of London's youngest voters could be left without a say in our democracy, Bite The Ballot is calling on every teacher to bring voter registration into their classrooms, now.

The latest figures from the ONS reveal a worrying drop in the number of young people registered to vote. This follows last year's change to our registration system. Across London, the number of 'attainers' (young citizens who reach voting age by the next election) fell by an astonishing 11% in inner London and 9% in outer London. Not only are they unable to vote, they can't apply for a credit rating and can't sit on a jury.

This ONS snapshot of the register from December 2015 tells us how many 'attainers' are on the register in London. If we compare this figure against the best population data available, we get an indication of how many 16 and 17-year-olds may be missing from the roll. There were 187,695 16 and 17-year-olds in London in mid-2014. Just 30,736 were registered to vote.

Urgent action to tackle this is now badly needed. This is a national disgrace, and every mayoral candidate should pledge to never let this happen again.

London's greatest strength is its incredible diversity. Around every corner, you'll find a different history, heritage and story. Its distinctiveness as a multicultural melting pot is the envy of the world. However, the democratic foundations that London is built upon - making it the tolerant and open society we live in - are too often taken for granted. In 2016, it cannot be right that a home-owning pensioner from the 'shires has a 90% chance of remaining on the register, but a young Black man living in London's private-rented accommodation has less than a 10% chance.

Putting the facts to one side, where do schools come in? As Nicky Morgan MP has argued, 21st century schools aren't here to produce students with excellent qualifications. They're here to help build the character and resilience needed for young people to meet the challenges and expectations of life outside the classroom. Becoming informed, active and confident citizens has to be central to this.

And voter registration isn't just a bureaucratic form-filling exercise. It forms a crucial first step in young citizens' political engagement - and a vital stepping stone towards active citizenship for young people on the margins of politics. They need to be inspired by school leaders, teachers and educators who have the freedom to innovate and the ability to use resources that work. Bite The Ballot, the youth democracy charity that's empowering young changemakers, is calling on teachers to incorporate a straightforward - but revolutionary - idea into school life. They want us make sure every young person is given the opportunity to register to vote.

We know this works, and can take inspiration from N. Ireland where a 'schools initiative' sees Electoral Registration Officers and schools working together to help students sign-up. After changes to the registration system in 2000s, just 244 'attainers' were left on N. Ireland's register. Recognising the need to act, the Chief Electoral Officer introduced the programme, which increased the number to 11,227. With almost 190,000 16 and 17 year olds in London, this could be a revolutionary shot in the arm to UK democracy.

With the fast approaching, once-in-a-generation vote on EU membership, and elections for the next Mayor of London and Assembly, we can't sit back and watch young people be pushed to the margins of democracy.

Bite The Ballot is asking every London mayoral candidate to pledge to support and work with schools to weave voter registration into every young person's school life. They're also calling on the Department of Education to issue special guidance to London's schools and colleges. But the best changes start, as ever, with individual teachers.

Like many teachers, I'm looking forward to helping the next generation of Londoners become engaged, educated and empowered to take part in democracy.

But what's needed now is action from Sadiq, Zac, Caroline, Sian, Peter, George - and all the other mayoral candidates - to stand up, admit that the system's failing and pledge to roll out a special 'Schools Initiative' for London.