It struck me today that we are now less than 6 months away from the May 2015 General Election.
The sad reality is that unless there is a radical change in the perceptions that young people have of politics in the very near future, a significant proportion of young people will have opted out of the electoral system by either not voting, or not registering to vote. As a young person, I find this frightening. Our inaction makes our voices silent, and whether by intent or not, our needs will not be realised by the politicians that will be governing us over the next 5 years.
It has become acceptable amongst a staggeringly high proportion of young people to pay very little, if any attention at all to politics. Figures from the Hansard Society show that only 12% of 18-24 year olds claim to be certain to vote in the next general election. Had I not witnessed certain events in the past 5 years such as the 2011 riots which swept through much of the nation, I may too have remained fairly disenfranchised with politics. The shocking truth is that politicians have used our ignorance as a means of exploitation, and for far too long. It is imperative that we do not allow this to continue.
The past 5 years have seen university fees triple from £3,000 to £9,000, the Education Maintenance Allowance which assisted and motivated young people to take on Further Education slashed, and what's more, official figures show that whilst the incomes of pensioners has risen since before the recession (albeit minimally), those in their 20's have seen their incomes fall by 12%.
I am aged 20 and already over £27,000 in debt due to my university expenses. Take that in. I'm still trying to grow a beard, but I'm over £27'000 in debt for wanting to make a difference to society by becoming a lawyer!
Too many young people now see politics as irrelevant to them and in some contexts, not voting has become a 'purposeful choice'. As much as I do not want to make a party political point (because the whole political establishment is to blame), it cannot be ignored that the Liberal Democrat's explicit policy and failure over tuition fees underlies much of the apathy - and I have to say is one of the most consistent points made by my young peers when I challenge them about their involvement in politics.
Although I lay the blame squarely on the political establishment, we as young people also need to act. We need to mobilise and ask ourselves... "Am I really going to just sit back and allow this to happen without having my voice heard?"
Let's say that you are aged 21 now. If you do not vote in the May election next year, you could potentially be 27 before you can vote again. The typical young person will go through significant life challenges and changes during this period. With this in mind, any remotely forward thinking individual should be considering what each political party will be proposing to do during this period of their lives.
There is every possibility that having considered all of the different political parties, you may decide you do not want to vote. This is understandable. But at the very minimum, please ensure that you are registered to vote.
Only 56% of people under 24 are registered to vote. Let's rephrase this - only 56% of under 24's have the ability to play a part in the selection or deselection of politicians. If we compare this to the over 65 age group, 96% of over 65's are registered to vote. This means that practically all of the older population have the ability to select or deselect their politicians. It's not rocket science to discover which group of people our politicians will try and keep happy - and can you blame them? With limited resources, there are always going to be winners and losers with every policy. A politician who looks out for young people at the expense of older people is practically asking to lose his job - because we young people literally cannot vote for him or her anyway!
The power we young people would hold if we all just registered to vote would be truly magnificent. Nothing more focuses the mind of a politician than knowing that a sizeable demographic within the population are registered to vote, and therefore have the ability to select or deselect them. If we just paid a little more interest to the political system, we young people could force ourselves in to a position whereby politicians would have to take notice of us.
This shouldn't be seen as 'a big ask' - after all - the future is ours!