This government has given young people a bit of a battering. We've had every possible ladder of opportunity pulled from under our feet, from the ending of the Education Maintenance Allowance to our chances of getting a job. With youth unemployment at over a million and teenagers' ability to afford to stay on in education put at risk, young people could be forgiven for asking exactly what they've done to deserve such treatment.
Yet despite these attacks on the life chances of young people, an even bigger problem at the heart of British politics is that the group hit hardest by this government has no right of reply and no means to defend themselves from the attack on their future. Despite all they offer to society, and the responsibility they are given, 16-year-olds are still not even considered deserving enough to receive the vote. That is fundamentally wrong.
Last week the Votes at 16 Coalition organised a week of action on the issue, gathering signatures, lobbying MPs and gaining momentum behind the policy. It's a policy which many MPs already support and, with this campaign taking place, now is the right time to increase the pressure for lowering the voting age to 16.
The latest Lib Dem betrayal of young people came the week before with Scottish Secretary Michael Moore's opposition to giving 16- and 17-year-olds the vote in the upcoming referendum on Scottish independence, when only 18 months earlier he stood on a manifesto pledging votes at 16. Again the government has shown itself to be out of touch with a generation of young people crying out for a say in British politics, and Michael Moore's intervention is yet another attempt to prevent young people from having a voice.
The government knows that it can get away with hitting the young, for the simple reason that it is not accountable to them. Where is the incentive for politicians from any party to fight for the interests of 16-year-olds? This is a group totally disenfranchised from our political system who cannot even reward a party that looks out for them with a vote. When it cannot be expressed through the ballot box, is it any surprise that young people's anger turns to protest, as seen at the tuition fees protests of 2010? How can a government refuse young people the opportunity to have their say through legal means yet condemn them for turning to the streets as a means to express their views?
So in the light of this all-out assault on the livelihoods of young people, it's time to put the issue of votes at 16 firmly on the left's political agenda. Instead of just fighting on behalf of young people, let those of us aged 16 and 17 fight for ourselves. Let's create the inclusive democracy that we all want to see, a democracy which acknowledges the contribution our young people can make and rewards them for that. Let's equip the next generation with that vital tool by which they can act to improve their own lives and those of their peers: the vote.
For too long those very people who can bring a new and refreshing dynamism to politics have been shut out and disenfranchised from our system, politely told to put their iPod headphones back in and leave the 'grown ups' to the business of governance. The very same young people who contribute £50 million a year in tax revenues yet have no say over where those tax revenues are spent. Young people who had no voice when EMA was replaced by a completely inadequate bursary scheme which sets one deserving young person against another for support from a limited and hopelessly underfunded pot.
It's time we said enough is enough of governments only seeing young people as an afterthought. The left needs to be pushing so that young people like me can have the vote, and with it the ability to defend our own future.
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