On Wednesday we, the British Youth Council (representing over 250 youth organisations) launch our new online manifesto video to highlight the top five issues young people in our membership care about: votes at 16, mental health, the living wage, youth services, and first aid in schools.
Young voters were the lowest proportionate age-group to vote at the last election which has fuelled a myth that they are not interested in politics and reinforced a media stereo-type that young people are lazy, apathetic and who have no interest in politics. Therefore the response to our "Youth manifesto" would traditionally be one of the following:
1) Surprise that a youth manifesto, constructed and voted for by people under 25 across the country even exists
2) Shocked to learn the policies young people want are not the abolition of school or free PS4s for all!
Therefore the not-so newsworthy truth that young people have strong opinions on social issues they care about has been ignored, despite growing numbers taking part in youth democracy initiatives like the UK Youth Parliament (875,000 referendum votes) last year. The fact that young people feel disillusioned by the lazy, apathetic and cynical politics of Westminster (like many other age groups) is interpreted as total disinterest. However, I believe that the low voter turnout of young people was the result of young people feeling excluded or irrelevant to politicians. Instead, it was seen as young people 'not giving a damn' - which led to the cyclical problem of politicians not seeing an electoral value in young people. The lack of credibility was then compounded with broken pledges. This has created a chicken and egg cycle of mutual disengagement - until now.
The 2015 election is much closer to call - and a growing youth vote could be significant, with the potential to swing the result in some areas. The British Youth Council established a non-part coalition to campaign on voter registration (League of Young Voters) with the aim of breaking the cycle of lower voter turnout and turning mutual disinterest into proactive opportunity. As well as challenging young people to register to vote it challenges parties and candidates to give them something to vote for.
The recent YouGov poll we have commissioned as part of our manifesto launch will give us a new insight into voter registration rates, young voter intentions and attitudes, and we shall release data during the campaign and highlight popular issues to keep the youth voter debate alive.
Today we are releasing initial results which indicate that as many as two out of three are undecided about which candidate or party they would vote for in their constituency. So its still all to play for. The same poll revealed a general voting intention by those aged 18-24 with Labour on 36%, Greens 20%, Conservatives 19% , Ukip 14%, Lib Dems 5%, and SNP/PC 5%. We hope to update this data as the election approaches but we are also collecting voting intentions and attitudes of those aged 16 and 17 to see if their inclusion in the election would make a difference.
As the chair of the British Youth Council, I am excited. Our manifesto is our vision for our parliament, of things we believe are achievable and will make a difference and will benefit the whole of society. We are not calling for change - but offering to be a part of that change - for instance, every year up to 140,000 people in the UK die in situations where first aid could have given them a chance to live. If this simple measure is passed we will not only be part of the change, but will challenge those tired stereotypes with social action that benefits everyone.
Listen to us, and give us something to vote for!