THE BLOG

Just Seven Days Left to Save Our Democracy

13/11/2015 08:00 GMT | Updated 12/11/2016 10:12 GMT

Over the past few years the Labour Party and the NUS have been working in overdrive to ensure hundreds of thousands of people are on the electoral register and have a voice when it comes to the future of the country.

But in the next week, the urgency of these efforts is even greater. The Government have ignored independent advice to wait until the end of 2016 to implement big changes to the way you register to vote - and one million people look set to disappear from the electoral register on 1 December this year.

Individual Electoral Registration (IER) changes how you register to vote. In the past, it was possible for a family member or your university to register you to vote. But now, you need to take action to do it yourself - and you may not even realise it.

The last moment your application can be counted for the 1 December electoral register is 20 November - that's next Friday, just seven days away.

This early transition to IER threatens to disenfranchise and shut people out of our democracy. It has left far too many people off the electoral register who want to be on it. In fact, many people who think they are on the register may well have already been taken off it without realising.

We know what kinds of voters are more likely to be missing: they are private renters, the unemployed and lower-paid people. But perhaps the greatest divide is between the older and the younger generation. Some 95% of over-65s are on the electoral register, yet the proportion of 18 to 24-year-olds is just 70%.

Already the poorest students in Britain are burdened with the highest debts. Beating the odds to get into higher education in the first place, the poorest are faced with rising and unsustainable debts to fund the cost of studying and living, whilst many of the richest students don't have to borrow a single penny at all. Their wages stay in their pockets whilst the poorest see it disappear from their pay packet.

Now, the government has decided to add to that burden by proposing to scrap maintenance grants and replace them with even more loans. The Institute for Fiscal Studies estimates that this will see the poorest students ending up owing over £50,000 - at least an additional £13,000 on current figures - and adding an extra four years to their repayments.

Research by the National Union of Students also shows that the average cost of accommodation for students has also doubled in just ten years, rising by 97% between 2001 and 2011. In fact, early research already shows that rents have gone on to rise by nearly 20% in the last three years alone. Weekly expenditure on day-to-day travel to just get to college has also risen by a third in the last year and this is only going to get worse as the government try and merge local colleges, making students travel further and for longer to study. We also know that these rising costs are also seeing students turn to work whilst studying - with some 77% now studying to fund their studies. All are issues George Osborne doesn't seem too keen to talk about and doesn't want students to notice.

The attacks on students and young people are only getting worse. The government now want to raise tuition fees even further. Up to four in ten further education and sixth-form colleges in England could close if the government presses ahead with savings in the comprehensive spending review.

I am sure that if I was George Osborne - already facing a severe backlash for leaving working families worse off through cutting the tax credits they rely on - I would sleep easier at night knowing that I'd made it harder for students to vote.

So of course the government want to quietly ensure that students and young people miss out on being counted. But we cannot let that happen. If students don't register to vote now, they will be at a major disadvantage, with even more people underrepresented - and it won't be enough to fight for change in 2020 if we miss this chance now.

The Government's boundary review, which decides which areas are covered by a constituency MP, will be determined by how many people are registered to vote. The Tories are trying to rig the system in their favour, by leaving students out of the conversation - they know students feel battered and betrayed by the government's policies, so are less likely to vote for them.

Not only is there a democratic argument for getting registered - being registered to vote allows you to get credit, so you can borrow money cheaply and easily. You could also receive an £80 fine if you aren't registered. So it is entirely in your interests to do so.

Today NUS and Labour join forces and are calling for action. We have been working together for some time to ensure that as many people as possible can take part in our democracy and to make it the vibrant, exciting opportunity that we know it can be.

We need to make sure that as many people as possible and students all over the country register to vote in the next week. In the next election it is imperative that their voices are heard loud and clear.

The first step is to make sure you are registered yourself - you can do this in just three minutes at gov.uk/register-to-vote. We are asking you to message your friends, stick that link on Facebook, send out a tweet, and put it on your WhatsApp groups. We only have until November 20 to register to vote and to show we are a part of our communities. Even if this government want to play around with the boundaries; we've got to make sure they can't write us out of the picture.

You must not go unheard.

Gloria De Piero MP is the Shadow Minister for Young People and Voter Registration

Robbie Young is an LGBT officer at the National Union of Students