Young people in England are being left behind as the governments in the nations lead the way in extending democracy.
As Wales prepares to ratify votes at 16 for assembly and council elections, NUS (National Union of Students) has called upon the next UK Government to stop discriminating against England and Northern Ireland’s young people, and extend the vote to all 16- and 17-year olds for all future elections.
Speaking on 5th December ‘Democracy Day’ NUS called for all parties, campaigners and the media to highlight the need for reform of UK politics and to make votes at 16 the norm across all elections. The national student body also called for the removal of any proposals for voter ID and advocated for automatic voter registration.
While 16- and 17-year olds in Scotland could vote in the 2014 independence referendum and are able to vote in Holyrood and council elections, they are ineligible to vote in UK general elections. Meanwhile in Wales, the National Assembly for Wales as recently as last week passed a law giving votes to 16- and 17-year olds in Senedd elections from 2021. The Welsh Government is also legislating to introduce the same measures in local elections.
Figures provided by the Electoral Commission show over 1.4 million 18-25 year olds and 1.2 million 25-34 year olds have registered to vote since the general election was called, but there are approximately 1.5m 16-17 year olds living in the UK* today denied a say in this election. Under proposals from the current UK Government all voters would be required to provide photo ID at polling stations before they can vote. Concerns have been raised by multiple civic organisations and politicians alike that this is a discriminatory move that would disproportionally disadvantage marginalised groups who do not have access to photo ID. To ensure all eligible voters have the opportunity to vote and to reduce bureaucracy NUS supports automatic voter registration.
Commenting, the NUS National President Zamzam Ibrahim said: ‘While we’re delighted to see so many young people registered for this election of our lives, and thrilled that hundreds of thousands of students and young people in Wales and Scotland will benefit from the progressive voting steps being taken in those nations, it’s inexcusable that these same groups of young people remain locked out of Westminster elections, and that young people in other parts of our country are lagging behind their friends and families.
‘Greta Thunberg, aged 16, has already told the world that ‘people are underestimating the force of angry young kids’ and she is right. The next government must listen, or risk alienating and frustrating a generation even more.
‘If Westminster truly wants young people the length and breadth of the UK to engage in parliamentary democracy, then politicians in London need to make votes at 16 the new norm for all elections and to make voter registration as automatic as receiving your national insurance number.’