Enquiry into lowering the voting age to 16

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1 Enquiry into lowering the voting age to 16 Suffolk UK Youth Parliament is one of our projects based within our Voice & Representation team here at Community Action Suffolk; Suffolk UKYP gives the young people a voice throughout the county. They have 13 elected representatives with varying roles based around the seven constituencies. The Youth Parliament in Suffolk is gaining recognition and interest by many MPs, young people and organisations that want to have a say in matters that affect them, or support young people to do this. Throughout April and May 2014, the Members of Youth Parliament carried out face-to-face consultation via focus groups, online messaging services and an online survey. In total Suffolk UKYP gained the views of 519 people aged 11-18, with young people from all around the county represented. The online survey was open to all young people under the age of 18 in Suffolk, and the focus groups were carried out in the following establishments: Lowestoft College, Samuel Ward Academy, Bury St. Edmunds County Upper School, Alde Valley High School, St. Josephs College Ipswich, Northgate High School Ipswich, Lowestoft Sixth Form College and Kesgrave High School. Every young person surveyed was 18 years old or younger, with 66% of surveyed respondents in the age bracket. Executive Summary Through various methods of primary research the general consensus in Suffolk was not one of apathy, it was indeed a general interest in voting and an eagerness to be equipped and knowledgeable in how to vote, thus demonstrating a more responsible attitude than some adults may take. One particular group has commented that the arguments that are being used by the political parties that don t want to voting age lowered are the same pointless arguments that were used when women didn t have the right to vote. They want their generation to be taken seriously, as lots of decisions that have been made especially around education, university fees and other matters have seriously impacted on some of their lives, and they want to have a say in this. We asked young people initially if they would vote at 16 if they could, the results showed 56% stating they would and 44% stating that they wouldn t vote. For the young people that stated that they wouldn t vote it is a very poignant fact to mention that most of these entered a comment stating that; if they felt knowledgeable and able to make an informed decision, then they would vote. A further comment that many young people made was that many have joined organisations or created their own social action projects to make the changes they wish to see. There is so much positive work being done by young people, as they are generally frustrated and are taking (local) matters into their own hands. One young person remarked that the UK Youth Parliament Make your Mark campaign collected the views of nearly half a million young people, proving they want to, and are prepared to head to the ballot boxes to get their opinions counted. When asking young people if they felt ready to make an informed decision on who to vote for, only 44% said that they did, however the 66% that stated they don t feel informed enough due to lack of education, or lack of interest because they can t actually vote. Many commented that the information is out there if you are willing to find it. 70% of people surveyed agreed that education is vital and 30% stated that is should be part of the national curriculum. One young person made a very significant comment by asking, if we are the democracy we state we are, then why are we not encouraged to be a part of that process. Basic education in politics is a fundamental necessity; otherwise everyone s vote could be classed as misinformed. With only 40% of respondents surveyed actually having any political education at school, most young people stated that if they had been taught basic politics at secondary level then they would feel ready to vote at 16. Many young people are learning via the news and media, being engaged by parents and family into learning about politics as young people are hearing what s happening in the 1 P a g e

2 news and are gaining an interest and want a say in what s happening locally and nationally. They are eager to have an influence on the decisions that have been made on their behalf, which sometimes they don t necessarily support, but affect them all the same. This report outlines the key findings of the research, along with various comments given by the young people themselves. As stated, the picture in Suffolk is not one of apathy, as many may wrongly predict, it is eagerness and a willingness to learn and be equipped to make responsible and sensible decisions based on fact. Some of the older age bracket stated they wanted to see transparency of political parties policies on how they will support young people, so they can decide on their own political preferences based on policies, not personalities and propaganda. To surmise we include a quote from a young person who sums up the feeling in the county towards lowering the voting age; I want to vote at 16, I want to be able to make a good decision based on fact and my own beliefs. However I will vote when I m eligible but only when I feel I can make a responsible decision. I feel let down that I ve never been taught anything. I don t like what s going on in the country, I don t like the word politics but by discussing it with a friend who is political, I came to realise politics is in everything we see, do and what goes on around us! Don t let the word politics put you off, think of it as standing up for your country, your people and shaping the future for your own children and grandchildren. Why shouldn t we have a part of that at 16, you can have a child at 16 but can t influence how their future will be something s wrong here! This isn t democracy we are told we live in! 1. Would you vote if the voting age was lowered to 16? In addition we asked young people why they would vote, if the voting age was lowered, some of their responses are listed below. Most people that agreed that the vote should be lowered stated that: - They should be given the vote because they want to have a say in regards to the people that represent them and make decisions on their behalf. - They should be able to have their say in matters that concern or affect them. - They wanted a say in who is running the country - They asked, If you want to vote at 16 then why shouldn t you have that right Some people that agreed that the vote should be lowered to 16 stated that: 2 P a g e

3 - It would make me feel more involved in my community and/or country - They wanted a part of democracy - They can work and or pay tax but don t have a say in how that tax is spent - Everyone should have the right to vote from 16 upwards if they want to - It is important that young people s opinions are taken into account Other individual comments to support lowering the voting age include: - So I can vote for someone that is actually supporting young people - As part of the younger generation I feel it is my duty to help change not only my own future but the future of my parents and grandparents too - I know more about politics than my family, and they can vote but not me! - If Scotland can do it, why can t we? - More and more young people are turning to social action projects to make positive changes for themselves and their communities, they should be given the vote as they want it - The turnout in elections cannot be the main focus here, 16 and 17 year olds have the right to vote - Most changes made in Parliament affect 16 year olds for example 16 years olds pay National Insurance. - I am affected by political issues so I want my opinion to count for something - My local MP never listens to me as a young person so I d like to vote so they don t get elected again. We also asked the young people why they wouldn t vote if they had the option, some of their responses are listed below. Most young people, who thought that the voting age shouldn t be lowered, stated that: - They would like to vote if they knew about politics - They don t know enough about politics/democracy/mps - They don t find politics interesting at all as it s not understood - They wouldn t know who to vote for - They don t understand what each party does nor understand their policies Some young people that stated that the voting age shouldn t be lowered to 16 stated that: - Political parties are all the same - Young people are irresponsible, but argued that so are adults - They didn t know anything about politics - There is a general apathy from young people as the politicians don t appeal to them,try to engage them or even listen to their younger constituents - They don t understand it Other individual comments from young people that wouldn t vote at 16 included: - Young people will only vote for who their parents tell them to vote for - Because we need education first - The majority of our form (group) said that there s no point in voting as we don t know much about the political parties and what they stand for - People might not be as well informed thus might not be fair. 3 P a g e

4 2. Do you feel ready to make an informed decision about who to vote for? In addition we also asked for individual and group comments regarding the ability to make an informed decision. Some of the responses are included below: - If we could vote at 16 then we could go onto the candidates websites and see what they stand for, just because I m not ready now doesn t mean I wouldn t be ready if I had the right - I have a job, I know about taxes and about my local MPs and council - Personally yes because I am very interested in politics and very aware of current political developments in the country and abroad - Because I can research the background of each party that you are able to vote for of my own violation and understand their aims and goals - Like adults, young people don t need to know about politicians and party politics, all they need to know is what they believe in and which party will best support what they believe in - All the information is out there if you wanted to look - There are lots of things on the internet and television - Yes because I personally am interested in politics and come from a background where I have been encouraged to do so from an early age - Most of us do feel we would be able to make an informed decision and that young people are less impressionable than others think. It is argued that everyone can be misled by politicians regardless of age - Young people usually have a set of coherent ideas and views by aged I really don t know if I would make the right choice - It s all too confusing and the politicians only tow the party line anyway so why bother - No because I haven t been taught anything, I don t even physically know how to cast a vote 4 P a g e

5 3. What would help you feel prepared to vote? Responses given as individual comments included: - A GCSE Politics option that could be compulsory if the voting age is lowered - I think it would be a good idea for every political party to write a manifesto aimed specifically at young people, and to be separate to their main one. It would be a good way to engage my generation in politics and will help us understand what they will do in terms of issues that affect young people. - If we had been given compulsory education in the most basic politics from a much younger age and as a permanent part of the national curriculum then more young people would be interested in voting - It will be difficult to teach and for someone to remain unbiased. 4. How do you learn about politics? We also asked young people the following questions to gain a better understanding of where they learn about politics. The results clearly show that the majority of young people are influenced or taught by their family and parents with the news and media playing an important role in shaping young people s opinions. Young people also stated that social media was an important platform on which to learn about political issues or gain an insight into politics. 5 P a g e

6 5. Should young people be given the right to vote and did you receive any political education at school? We asked young people if they would vote if they were able and we decided to ask a broader question of should all young people be given the right to vote, if the voting age was lowered. We then asked a question of Do you intend to vote as soon as you are eligible, 76.6% of young people stated that they would vote, and 23.4% of young people stated that they won t be voting. These figures suggest a higher turnout of 18 year olds than in the 2010 general election, thus indiciting that the age bracket is interested in voting and will be turning up at the ballot boxes to have their voices heard and counted. To conclude and sum up the research of 519 young peoples views in Suffolk, we have found that young people want to vote, many would if they could at 16 and they do feel ready to make an informed decision. Those young people that wouldn t vote, if presented with the option have demonstrated, by taking the time to submit additional 6 P a g e

7 comments that they would vote if they received education, information and a general idea of how democracy and politics work. Some suggestions to engage young people in politics were; political youth champions that appeal to their age range, role models, visits by MPs and other political figures, more TV coverage such as BBC Free Speech and Question Time aimed at the younger audiences, along with a statutory obligation for young people to be taught the most basic principles of politics so they can then make their own decisions. As stated by a 14 year old Young people are no less impressionable than adults, so we ask what are the real reasons why young people are not permitted to vote at 16? We ve heard they are irresponsible, immature and don t careour research shows different. Young people want the vote, the want to be given the option of making their own decisions on these matters that have truely affected many over the past few years. They want to stand up and have their say, they are consiencsious about the decisions they would make and through this research have proved a responsible and mature attitude to voting. Suffolk UKYP wholeheartedly support vote at 16 and will continue to campaign, lobby and strive for equality in democracry for all the young people who are being represented by adults at the ballot box, that are making decisions made on their behalf, that affect the lives of all young people, now and in the future. 7 P a g e

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