Why can't I vote? This is the question currently being asked by thousands of sixteen and seventeen year olds in this country.
Casting my mind back to not being able to vote in the 2015 general election, I remember feeling disregarded as a seventeen-year-old. I felt overlooked as a young person in Britain by missing the opportunity to vote. At the time of the 2015 election, I was working a part-time job whilst at college studying A-levels, and planning for university. I could not help but scrutinise what the next few years would offer young people, including myself. We are trusted to drive, have children and join the army, but not trusted to responsibly vote. How could the future government make young people feel empowered and valued members of Britain if they do not trust them with voting?
The next five years of my life was ultimately decided by people who were not me. I imagined being twenty-two when I could first vote in the next general election if the EU Referendum and the snap-election had not been called. Currently, sixteen-year-old's will be university graduates when they can first vote in the next election at the age of twenty-one in 2022.
In the 2015 election, I was eager to represent my informed opinions, interests and worries for the future by casting my vote. Rather than older generations in my family, the access to social media and the freedom of consuming digital news extended my knowledge about the complexity of politics. Powerless to the decisions made by our government, decisions that directly affect young adults, such as rising university fees, housing policies and tax rates, were made without their input.
The general election in 2015 witnessed an overall turnout of 66.1%. This figure has previously dipped as low as a 59.4% in the 2001 election turnout. These percentages show that not all of the British public want to vote in elections, regardless of age demographics. The EU Referendum turnout of young voters was almost double than initially expected - approximately 64% of 18-24 voters voted - exemplifying the political interest shared by many young people.
The EU referendum differed to other elections which are held every five years. Brexit is an irreversible decision that will change our country's trade, travel and integration with the rest of Europe; the consideration to allow more of the future tax-paying generation to vote should have been paramount. The young generation will bear most of the brunt over the success or failure of Brexit. The importance of a democracy is that it views every person equally; indiscriminate of political positioning, financial income, gender and age. It is an undermining betrayal to sixteen and seventeen year olds of not being eligible to vote. Sixteen and seventeen year olds should be provided with their say in the future discourse of this country rather than being held partly accountable in the future for repairing past mistakes.
Many argue that young people are not interested in politics and will not vote, or vote irresponsibly if they do. Allowing sixteen and seventeen year olds to vote could be a proactive way to engage more young people in British and international politics. Like people who choose not to vote, the sixteen and seventeen-year-old voters who are not interested in politics will simply not vote - they will not drift the country into anarchism. Lowering the voting age by two years will simply make it available for those who are engaged with politics to have an input and provide more young people with a valuable voice.
There is a distinction between sixteen and seventeen year olds and those younger. Sixteen and seventeen year olds can join the army, marry, become a Director of a company, and must pay adult train fares, for instance. They can also have kids.
They can contribute to the economy by working and paying tax, so surely they should be allowed to vote?
Lowering the voting age by two years will provide sixteen and seventeen year olds with political voices. There is a disservice to young people by thinking that all teenagers linger on street corners in trackies or dedicate their time to the Kardashians and Instagram. Youth Parliament has never been stronger, with team of circa 600 young people aged 11-18 campaigning nationally and debating in Parliament. Since 2016, Scotland have recognised sixteen and seventeen year olds with the right to vote in all Scottish elections, whereby 75% of them turned out to vote; higher than the national average turnout. Currently, the Green Party, Labour, Liberal Democrats and SNP support this change.
Young people feel disenfranchised from politics. Providing more young adults with the right to vote will identify the importance of young voices. Sixteen and seventeen year olds are ready to vote so the UK must update the voting regulations. This will inform, engage and empower more young people with serious issues affecting our nation by recognising sixteen and seventeen year olds with the right to vote.