05/02/2015 12:30 GMT | Updated 07/04/2015 06:59 BST

It's Vital That Young People Sign Up to Vote

Today is National Voter Registration Day - #NRVD - a nationwide push to get people of voting age onto the electoral roll before the cut-off date of April 20th. Barnardo's is supporting it because it is arguably young people who stand to gain the most from this drive.

With a General Election looming, current government policies are set to protect investments, benefits and pensions for older generations. As our elected representatives fight for seats and party, they reflect back the issues of the generation most likely to vote.

In stark contrast, the policy landscape for first time voters is looking particularly bleak. Young people, and especially those we support, are reeling from a barrage of hits on their livelihood. They include high private rents, potential housing benefit cuts, stubbornly high youth unemployment and a £400million reduction in education funds for the most disadvantaged.

No surprise, then, that a recent Demos report found that key areas of concern for 18 - 24 years olds were living costs, affordable housing, unemployment and inequality.

There is so much for young people to discuss, debate and even get angry about in the coming months.

It's also crucial that the voices of the most disadvantaged are heard loud and clear.

There's an enduring myth that a lack of participation in the electoral process is due to apathy or disinterest among young people. However the recent large youth turn out for the Scottish Referendum should have killed this fiction. It reveals that, in fact, there's a very strong appetite for politics when young people can see that their voices can make a difference.

Unfortunately, elsewhere in the UK we have created a vicious circle of disenfranchisement. Only 44% of 18-24 year olds voted in the last General Election. Many young people are at best turned off from modern politics and at worst feel alienated by it. Politicians then ignore young people's needs as they are less likely to vote. In response, some young people find different ways to get involved in social change - the development of online activism is an interesting area to watch in this regard.

Of course voting is not the only way to participate in politics, but the fact is a large-scale opting out of it by one section of society is not a sign of a healthy, representative democracy.

But this General Election could prove to be a watershed. It may well return an unpredictable result; recent analysis from the Intergenerational Foundation showed that the youth vote could have a deciding role in many constituencies. It's an exciting time for young people to exert their power and alter the policy landscape on which their future depends.

Our worry is that millions of young people will miss this opportunity to make a difference to their own lives and the lives of others. What is more, there is a risk that because of the new individual registration process, they could fall off - or never even get on - the electoral register. We know that private renters, students and young people are most at risk of losing their vote.

So from today Barnardo's will be working to ensure the young people we support are registered to vote on 7 May. We'll be joining a range of bodies in this endeavour including Bite the Ballot, vInspired, League of Young Voters and the NUS.

It's vital that as a democractic country we work harder to inspire and engage young people on social and political issues. We must do so not only so they are encouraged to exercise their right to vote, but also so that they have the opportunity to alter the future policy landscape, both for today and tomorrow. That would be a brilliant outcome for young people, whatever the actual result of the general election.