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Give 16-year-olds the vote - High School for Girls pupil's rallying cry

By The Citizen  |  Posted: December 19, 2013

By Young Citizen Reporter Emily Green

Give 16-year-olds the vote - High School for Girls pupil's rallying cry

Gloucester MP Richard Graham

Rude, impulsive, sulky and as stated by Gloucester’s local MP, Richard Graham, likely to vote for Mickey Mouse in the national election, society’s views on young people and politics is disheartening to say the least.

‘Free sweeties if you vote for me!’ and a ‘future cabinet made up of Little Mix, Harry from One Direction, Dynamo Magician Impossible and the colour black’ were amongst responses to a poll on the Guardian, asking readers if 16 year olds should be allowed to vote.

As a politics student, aged 16, at the High School for Girls, when told I wasn’t mature enough to make an informed decision about voting by my local MP, I felt that this seemingly common view of young people’s immaturity in regards to politics was unfair and quite patronising.

When questioning numerous adults on whether they supported a lowering of the voting age to 16, the frequent answer was no, due to immaturity and a lack of knowledge.

However when repeating this question to 16 and 17 year olds, the large majority favoured the change, as they would be able to represent themselves rather than relying on older voters, in addition to raising political awareness.

Judging by this result, it seems rather than young people being uninterested in politics, society has become uninterested in them.

There is no particular birthday on which a person becomes mature enough or aware enough to be trusted with the vote.

Although the issue of immaturity is used against lowering the voting age frequently, it seems ridiculous that young people with such high levels of immaturity are able to undertake more serious responsibilities, such as marriage, enter the armed forces and pay tax.

As argued by the High School’s Politics teacher, Richard Hood, ‘the standard of young people’s education has increased enormously since 1969 when the voting age was lowered to 18’ and therefore the idea that voting is too complex and young people aren’t informed enough to vote is inaccurate and ‘patronising’.

With the next national election in May 2015, I am unable to vote as I turn 18 in June, meaning my next opportunity to vote is when I am 23.

Therefore, without a say in the next election, I am powerless in influencing which Government will come into power and cater for my needs. Unable to vote, politicians do not have any incentive to cater for young people, which, suggested by Richard Hood, is responsible for why youth unemployment is at treble the overall unemployment rate, and why those aged 16-24 face cuts to services worth 28% of their annual household income, compared with 10% of the income of those aged 55-74.

In my opinion, giving those aged 16 and 17 the vote would have numerous advantages. In contrast to the negative stereotypical qualities young people supposedly possess, engaged teenagers would provide an energy and open-mindedness, which would benefit the current depressing atmosphere at elections, in which turnout has declined from 71.5% to 65.7%, between 1997-2010.

Lowering the voting age would provide different perspectives on policies affecting younger voters, for example, tuition fees, public services – for which the majority of young people are dependent on, and the prioritisation of policies which provide future benefit, such as fuel sustainability. Teenagers would, of course, have different priorities from older voters, and a healthy democracy needs to hear many voices.

Able to represent their own issues, young people would become more empowered and would recognise the value of voting, which may lead to improving turnout in elections as well.