No one can have failed to notice that the general election is upon. And with elections comes debate, not just about policy but about who takes part in the process at all. IPPR's new report on political inequality shows that certain groups vote more than others and that it's a growing problem, not least as it is causing an erosion of the central democratic ideal: that all citizens, regardless of status, should be given equal consideration in and opportunity to influence collective political decision-making.
Power is the issue - who has influence, who has a voice, who has a say in our democracy. There are many reasons why young people lack political power compared to older voters, but one key reason is they vote at much lower rates - only 44 per cent of 18-24-year-olds voted in the 2010 general election, compared to 76 per cent of those aged 65 and over.
This has real and often very bad consequences for young people. For example, IPPR analysed the 2010 Spending Review, which had critical implications for who would be affected and how by the spending cuts over the last five years. We found that it was the 16-24-year-old group that was disproportionately affected, as RECLAIM know well, facing cuts to services worth an estimated 27.5 per cent of their annual household income. No other age-group faced average cuts worth more than 16 per cent of their income. Overall, voters faced cuts worth 12% of their annual household income while non-voters faced cuts worth 20%. In other words, non-voters were almost twice as badly hit, with a correlation between which demographic groups voted and the decisions taken by political parties.
So the argument in favour of a duty to vote in your first election with an option for 'none-of-the-above' is about redressing an ingrained power imbalance in our democracy. It is absolutely not about saying young people are politically apathetic or don't care. As Georgia says in her piece, they are passionate and engaged politics, whether it is about decent housing, a Living Wage, the environment or gender equality. Nor are we saying they should vote for the status quo. There should absolutely be a 'None of the above option' so that they can positively register their discontent with the current options, if that is their preference.
Instead it is about making sure their views, their interests, their voice heard so that young people don't always get a raw deal. The political system currently fails to accommodate them; by ensuring young people do have a voice, it can force the political party and politicians to stop paying lip service to them and start better redressing their interests.