As trendy political issues go, there hasn't been many of late, however getting young people to the ballot box has become an issue now discussed on a daily basis. Proposals for compulsory voting and greater citizenship education have been dubbed as a silver bullet to this apathetic crisis. Tinkering with structural reform isn't enough: young voters need something to believe in.
This week the IPPR published a report suggesting that the best way to instill a culture of mass political participation was to make voting compulsory for the first election after someone turns 18, claiming it would "kick start the habit of a lifetime". There is some merit in this assumption but we only need to look back at 2014 when over 100,000 voters aged 16 and 17 registered to vote in the Scottish independence referendum, with the vast majority casting their vote, without it being compulsory. One of the key lessons from the referendum that explains why so many people voted was precisely because they felt their vote counted for something that they believed in. Yet in 2010, around 50% of Scottish young voters didn't bother turning up at the polls, fast forward four years and the majority found a reason to place to cast their vote.
My generation desperately needs something to believe in and vision for a better future than we have now. Young people up and down the UK are slogging hour after hour for a minimum wage that still varies depending on your age. On contracts that don't offer the security of a fixed income so we can pay bills. With debts over £27,000 because we were told to get a good education in order to kick-start our careers. As well as facing sanctions from the Jobcentre for aspirating to have a job that matches our skills set.
Throughout our lives we have been sold a promise of aspiration: we were told to work hard, aim high and push ourselves. At school we were told that going to university would unlock a world of opportunity and were told to stick in unless we wanted to low paid, menial work. Fast forward three/four years and we have a degree in hand but immediately face a swathe of cynicism over the value of our qualification and branded as work-shy for not wanting to take any job offered to us, by the very people who told us to aspire for something more.
When faced with this harsh reality, it doesn't take an academic paper to decipher why so many young people are disillusioned with our politics. The key driver for older generations to vote is seldom an absolute sense of civic duty; they do so because they see a vision they can buy into. Of course the chicken and egg argument is that if young people voted then more politicians would listen to them. However solving voter apathy has no one solution and unfortunately telling someone they have no right to complain by boycotting the ballot box, doesn't cut it anymore. We know it's not enough because we hear it at every election and yet with each new generation added to the electoral roll, turnout among young voters' declines.
Ahead of their publishing manifestos, political parties should refrain from placing 'young people's issues' as a mere footnote stuffed at the back of the document. Make an effort to reach out to young voters, be ambitious and offer radical solutions to the problems we face, because that's something worth voting for on 7 May.Suggest a correction