Votes at 16, a progressive approach to politics?

By Elisha Fields

One of the campaigns that I am passionate about is “Votes at 16”. It’s a campaign in the UK, aiming to get the voting age lowered to 16, in case you hadn’t guessed!

There are so many arguments for this movement. Firstly, I think it is discrimination that 16 and 17 years old are silenced from having their views heard. There are school councils and meetings in which young people are able to discuss issues that affect them.

Teachers and staff members don’t deter youngsters from having a say about how the school is run. In the same way, I don’t think the country should disallow 16 and 17 year olds from voting when issues directly affect them and we need a voice to represent youth. There are already several countries out there that give the vote to 16 years olds, including: Brazil, Austria, Jersey etc. Isn’t it about time the UK also took a stand?

There are many issues affecting the youth today, from high youth unemployment, to increasing tuition fees, to local youth councils closing down and EMA being scrapped to name a few. Additionally there has been a huge cut to youth services in general.

It seems unjust that this group of people are prevented from having their say on issues that revolve around them. Is this not similar to having a group of people from another town, vote on issues about the town you live in, whilst you and the other inhabitants of the town aren’t allowed to vote?

It’s not just youth issues in particular, but all issues affect the young in one way or another. There are issues such as transport, Europe, crime, health etc and these all affect everyone. I think there needs to be a voice to represent the youth and not just through hearsay.

Sixteen and 17 year olds are able to make informed decisions, or so it seems the country believes them to be when it comes to the wide range of responsibilities they are able to carry out. Many 16 and 17 year olds are working full time, parenting, graduates from education, paying tax, driving, riding mopeds, living independently, in the army and much more.

At 16, you even have the right to play the lottery, the ability to win, and the accountability of handling millions. The law says they are old enough and responsible enough to manage these actions, so is it not a contradiction to not allow them to vote?

These activities take on more seriousness than being able to vote. Have you heard of the saying, “No taxation without representation”? — Well this is exactly what is happening in the current political system. And it doesn’t matter that not all 16 and 17 year olds are not working and paying tax. Not all 35 year olds are either and yet they’re still entitled to the vote.

More importantly, a 16 year old could have an identical life to a 30 year old; they could both work in a shop, pay rent, be married… Both are most likely to have opinions on their local community, services, policies and issues, but the 16 year old does not have the chance to have a say. Once upon a time, women and different classes were discriminated against and denied the vote, and this is what is happening to 16 and 17 year olds at this current time.

For those who might think that 16 and 17 year olds are too immature and lacking knowledge to vote — there are many older people who might be referred to as “shouldn’t be able to vote” and politically unaware, but who are given the right to vote nonetheless.

Many people might have prejudiced attitudes towards 16 and 17 year olds and why they shouldn’t vote but this is inequitable. People who are not interested will not vote, regardless of their age. Interestingly enough, under 16 year olds are able to become members of political parties, which seems paradoxical. As for the argument that 16 and 17 year olds could be influenced by their parents, everyone is influenced in some way no matter what their age.

Allowing “Votes at 16” would allow more young people to become interested in politics and the world around them. It’s the government saying “Politics is for you too”. Getting people engaged in politics and issues that affect them is important as a whole especially for the people who will be running the country tomorrow. Enabling “Votes at 16”, I believe, will increase voter turnout for the future.

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