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Should 16 year olds be able to vote?

Should 16 year olds be able to vote?

Stephen Williams MP, a Liberal Democrat for Bristol West has been campaigning to lower the voting age to 16. Votes at 16 has been high on the Liberal Democrat agenda and a commitment to Votes at 16 was included in their manifesto for the 2010 general election.


Stephen has bought forward a backbench motion to debate Votes at 16 on 24th January in the House of Commons. Ahead of this important debate to discuss enfranchising 16 and 17 year olds, we asked our youth steering group UK Youth Voice for their views.


There is a highly publicised lobby and it is a leading the policy of many well respected organisations such as BYC and the children's rights alliance. However members of UK Youth's youth steering group, UK Youth Voice, considered a wide range of issues before concluding that they didn't think being able to vote at 16 would improve political apathy amongst young people or help engage them with the political process.


Here's what they said:


Richard Cullen, Chair of UK Youth Voice 18 years old – "I know a lot of young people who are very politically minded and could contribute a lot to the voting system. However even now I am 18, I feel as though I personally do not hold enough information to vote for a party that would possibly be in control of the country, and I can say a lot of young people... do not have a great understanding on what it means to vote, who's the best to vote for and what will go ahead if person x is the new prime minister"


Sally Beveridge, London rep for UK Youth Voice - Before we can enable 16+ to vote, we need to actually make sure that 18+ are voting. A statistic I found was something like 45% of 18 to 24 years olds in the last election were signed up to vote- now this doesn't even bring in the amount who actually voted. Of that percentage double use Facebook every day. Really the campaign should be about getting more young people voting, and empowered not about widening the gap of could vote, because again it will be low numbers and to be quite honest a handful of the young people I work with wouldn't have the foggiest about voting.


Chris Whitwood, Vice Secretary and East Mids rep for UK Youth Voice - 16 year olds can join the armed forces but they cannot serve on the front line. Although many members of the group had the opportunity to leave school at 16 by 2013 the school leaving age will be raised to 17 and by 2015 will be 18 (see Education and Skills Act 2008 - link). 16 year olds are allowed to get married however only with parental consent; they have to be 18 to marry without parental consent. Whilst the arguments around tax and welfare benefits are relevant once the school leaving age is raised to 18 (see above) this will become irrelevant as although some 16-17 year olds may have jobs they will be working around school and will be unlikely to be earning enough to pay a noticeable tax rate. This also applies to the argument about joining a trade union, etc. A main argument for Votes at 16 is that it will increase voter turnout. Whilst it will increase the number of voters in elections it will not solve the real problem of why many people don't vote.


It's clear that they have considered the issue widely but thing that the priority is to increase the number of people who vote rather than extend the franchise. We think this is a hugely interesting debate and will await to hear the views in the Commons, but as you can see, even young people aren't fully decided on this one yet!


We would love to share your views on this interesting discussion and have put a poll on our facebook page.