The election may be a turn-off to young people, but they care about the issues – argues Thivya Jeyashanker, an NCB young trustee.
This coming election is very important for me. Why? Because it’s the first time I’m going to be able to vote in a general election.
I have registered to vote (which thankfully I knew to do because of advice from my politics teacher) but many young people have not.
According to a recent survey for Newsbeat, half of young adults have not registered to vote in this year’s general election. The reason is some young people feel that they are not caught up with politics, whilst others don't think their vote counts. So what’s the solution? David Cameron believes that spending £14 million on advertising and promoting voter registration is the solution. Yes, I see the adverts at the bus stands but they don’t seem to have the powerful effect desired.
The simple fact is young people are not engaging in formal politics. According to the 2,734 young people surveyed by IPSOS Mori for the National Children’s Bureau’s Generation Next report, only 28% of young people aged between 18 and 24 were absolutely certain that they would vote in a general election. And only 13% of Generation Next, those aged 11-16. It highlights the decline in voting turnout for young people.
As a trustee for the National Children’s Bureau I recently got the chance to ask MPs and Peers directly ‘Do you think this matters, and what do you do to engage young people in the process of government?’ These parliamentarians were gathered at the House of Lords launch this March of ‘What next for Generation Next?’ – a follow up to the original survey conducted last year. I was hopeful that the answers would provide an insight to how to solve the national epidemic of non-voting young people.
The answers were disappointing. It was just the same old jargon: ‘Young people are the future’, ‘more needs to be done’, blah, blah, blah. And it was correctly identified by a member of the audience that the three politicians (from varying parties) could have belonged to one. This isn’t good enough.
I have registered to vote but I don't know who to vote for. I have no affiliation to any political party (similar to the 71% of Generation Next). I don't know what each party stands for and how they are going to improve my future. Like Generation Next, I’m disengaged from mainstream political parties, but not from political issues.
For this generation it is policies over politics. Over 57% of the young people surveyed had done something to help other people or the environment in the past 12 months on a regular or infrequent basis. They have strong views on how the government should be spending their money. Many think that the government should be focusing its spending on the NHS, healthcare and hospitals (20%), education and schools (15%) and tackling poverty (11%).
They also have views on the legal age of responsibility. Around two in five think the legal age at which you can buy cigarettes, get married, join the army and be held responsible for a criminal activity should be raised.
Young people are getting involved, they are volunteering for charities, youth organisations, school councils and speaking out about issues that are important to them. Furthermore, we see young people protesting, tweeting, and blogging about what concerns them. Young people want to have their views reflected in policies. And I would like to believe that politicians want to hear what we have to say. But they just don't seem to be getting it right.
Instead of chucking money at the problem, why aren't politicians investing their time speaking to young people at colleges, universities, or even in the comfort of their homes by logging onto twitter or Facebook to speak directly to young people about the importance of voting.
Telling us to vote Conservative, Labour or Liberal Democrat, makes no sense to most of us who don't keep in tune with party politics. However telling us that you are going to invest in youth services, or keep our streets safe or how you are going to increase job prospects are more likely to get our attention.
Young people are disengaged with formal politics but they are engaged in politics. This matters. And politicians need to listen.
For more information on Generation Next visit: www.ncb.org.uk/generationnext
Thivya Jeyashanker (aged 19) – is on a gap year and volunteers as a board member and trustee of the National Children’s Bureau.