Today’s lively debate was a timely reminder to all candidates of the need to pay close attention to the concerns so many young people have about their future prospects. Many of the students asking questions clearly felt angry about the hand they’ve been dealt, and they have every right to be. My generation has cut down the rainforests, eaten all the fish, taken all the money from the pension funds, warmed up the planet and failed to build enough houses, and it’s left to the next generation to pick up the pieces.
Under 24s are three times as likely to be unemployed as the rest of the working age population. The rise of low paid jobs and zero hour contracts, combined with the increasing struggle to find affordable housing to live in, means that it’s harder than ever for young people born and brought up in Islington to plan for their long term future. Many have no idea whether they’ll even be here in 10 or 20 years time.
If today’s hustings proved anything it’s that these bright, articulate youngsters deserve the right to vote and make their voices heard by politicians of all parties. I was especially pleased that some of the students even volunteered to come and knock on doors with me after the hustings had finished. It makes no sense that we would allow these youngsters to have a say in electing their representatives.
Lowering the voting age is essential if we want to make sure governments are truly responsive to the needs of all ages. It’s important to reach out to voters at the earliest possible stages, and allowing people to vote for the first time while they’re still at school will give them the opportunity to explore political issues in depth, learn about the differences between the parties invite speakers in and challenge candidates on their policies as local students did at City and Islington College today. It also means voters can get into the habit of voting early on, which all the evidence shows is the best way to make sure people vote throughout their lives.
The Tories, sadly, remain opposed to the idea, so it’s clear that it will take a Labour government to deliver this badly needed change. Let’s make sure this election is the last one that shuts our 16 and 17 year olds out of the democratic process.