Boost democracy by giving young people the vote at 16

French Flea

Rachel Sadler
Liberal Democrat Candidate

There are over 2,000 16 and 17 year-olds in Tunbridge Wells according to the 2011 census. They pay taxes, can marry with parental consent, and yet cannot vote. Is this reasonable in a modern democracy?

For starters, under-eighteens in work are liable for Income Tax and National Insurance contributions, so it follows that they should have a say in how their contributions are spent. By letting them take more control, they will be better prepared for adult life. Only last week this paper highlighted concerns about young people leaving education without the skills they require to flourish in society. Giving them the vote will be a wonderful opportunity to counteract this.

What’s more, we allow this age group to get married (with parental consent) and start a family. Admittedly, this situation isn’t ideal, and more should be done to educate young people about sex and relationships, but if they do become parents at this tender age, they should be allowed to vote to help shape their family’s future.

Arguments about the apathy of young people can be dismissed given the fact that 75% of 16-17 year olds voted in the Scottish Referendum. And as a poll conducted by The Student Room confirmed that 82% of 16-17 year olds would have voted Remain, if they had been given the right to vote in the recent EU referendum, we may well have avoided the uncertainty, economic and social upheaval, and racial tensions of Brexit.

Finally, by giving 16 and 17 year olds the vote, we will be empowering thousands of young people in Tunbridge Wells to get involved in the political scene. If enough choose to become actively involved in politics, we could eventually reduce the average age of our MPs; currently 50, so a full 10 years older than the average Tunbridge Wells resident. Along with policies to encourage more women, disabled people and ethnic minorities into politics, we can ensure that politics better reflects the rich variety of people in the UK.

The main counter-argument appears to be that at 16 or 17 you are not mature enough to make an informed decision regarding who to vote for. There is a solution to this: age-appropriate political education will ensure they are well informed about how to vote. After all, politics is of relevance to everyone. By enforcing that message from a young age we’ll secure engagement and interest, which will further strengthen our democracy. Refuse, and we’ll have created more generations who are literally and figuratively disenfranchised.

Rachel Sadler is the recently appointed Liberal Democrat Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for Tunbridge Wells who is currently employed in a pre-authorisation role for an established healthcare company. Her previous political experience includes party fundraising and campaigning, as well as running for positions within Kent County Council and the borough council.

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