17/04/2015 13:56 BST | Updated 17/06/2015 06:59 BST

Most Young People Didn't Vote - What Happened Next Will Blow Your Mind


I'm going to tell you a quick story. A true story. It's a story about what happened when young people stopped voting.

Once upon a time (think 'the last three elections') most young people in the UK decided not to vote. Or possibly just didn't decide to vote, but either way the outcome was the same. On average only 44% of the 18-24 year olds across the land turned up on polling day, and the 25-30 year olds didn't do much better.

The young people stayed at home, carrying on with their lives and telling themselves that their votes don't matter anyway, while outside, the polling stations filled up with older people (like the over 65's - 76% of whom did vote), all putting little x's in little boxes. And for a while, the fact that those young people hadn't voted really didn't seem to matter, because for years Britain enjoyed a seemingly endless economic boom.

But then came the crash, and with it austerity, and major public spending cuts. And the government started looking around for where to make those spending cuts. And it looked at the voting registers, because it knew it had to make cuts but it didn't want to upset the people who voted for it, because then they might stop voting for it. So cut they did, and by 2014 over 55's were £1300 worse off than they were in 2010. But by the far hardest hit were the 16-24 year olds, who in real terms became £2850 poorer per person per year. £2850. Most young people didn't vote, and in the end it cost them nearly three grand. There you go. Mind. Blown.

I realise that sounds like an over-simplified point but it's logical, and it's not the only example of young people being adversely affected by policy making that simply wouldn't be possible if, as a demographic, we were mobilised enough to exert influence within the current political situation.

Take housing. Young people today face the biggest housing crisis for generations, and the government simply won't act on it because there isn't the political incentive for them to do so. The average 50 year old is secure when it comes to housing, but the average 20-35 year old is not.

First time buyers, young families looking to move, or young people trying to rent in metropolitan areas are crippled by the shortage of affordable housing. But they don't vote, so these needs are not addressed by any of the political parties. It's purely a young issue, so it's just not on the agenda. There you go again - Mind. Blown.

So why don't young people vote? There are too many reasons to go into here, but the most common one I've heard in my recent work as an ambassador for the campaign @useyourvoice, which encourages 18-30 year olds to vote, is the classic "none of the main parties represent me, and a vote for someone who isn't going to win is wasted." That simply isn't true.

Every vote counted represents an opinion - whether you vote Labour, Conservative, Green, UKIP or just spoil your ballet by drawing an amusing picture of something vaguely rude - all those opinions get totted up, and they all do matter. If 20% of the population vote for a fringe party, then the major ones know they have to address the issues that party stands for if they want to attract a fifth of the country back to them. And if a fringe party wins even a couple of seats in the new parliament they could become hugely important - even part of a coalition government.

I don't think it's ever been more important to get out there and use your voice, register your opinion, and vote. The more of us who do, the more important we become, and the more politicians are forced to address the issues that are important to us. If we all use our voice, and shout through our ballot papers on election day, the government of this country will have to listen - they couldn't afford not to...

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