Photograph of Exposure’s young people with images from Pixabay and Flickr
Olivia Opara reports on the rising power of young people’s political voices during the pandemic
2020 has been a year full of travesty for all. From increased anxieties about climate change and the LGBT+ rights to the Black Lives Matter and A-level protests that swept across the nation. The London Voter Registration Week (LVRW) has seen a 23% increase in youth voters. Young people are now proactively having a say about their futures and their communities alike.
The London Voter Registration Week
Launched by the ‘Greater London Assembly’ (GLA), the LVRW is a campaign that aims to encourage youth participation during elections via voting. Back in September, according to ShoutOutUK , the GLA’s partner, only one in three young people in London were registered to vote. This is quite disheartening considering how currently, 2,879,900 young people under the age of 25 live in London – one third of the population of the capital.
According to London Youth, the capital’s youth population is growing almost as fast as the working age population, with nearly one in four Londoners now under the age of 18. With this in mind, it’s not surprising that London has a higher population of young people than anywhere else in England. Despite this, young people’s voices are not proportionally represented.
In fact, the LVRW campaign shows that “London has one of the lowest voter registration rates across the UK regions and nations. Young people, private renters and Londoners from a Black and minority ethnic background remain under-registered and under-represented.” This under-representation brings a great disparity between the issues raised concerning young people and the rest of the population.
Young People’s Voting History
Since 1969 the age to vote in the UK has been 18. In the last decade, there have been proposals made to lower the voting age to 16. This consultation was first brought up by the Youth Citizenship Commission (YCC) set up by the Labour Party back in 2008. Political disengagement by young people was scarily obvious from the 2001 and 2005 elections that only saw 39 and 37 percent, respectively, of 18 to 24 year olds vote. Additionally, the YCC found that “only half of schoolchildren declare an intention to vote in general elections when they become eligible.”
Why are young people suddenly engaging with politics? Why have we started to exercise our rights to vote?
The UK has a sad history of a lack of participation from young people when it comes to political activities that, many would argue, affect them the most. Organisations such as the National Youth Rights Associations (NYRA) have been actively pushing for the UK government to lower the voting age. Research carried out by the NYRA states that: “When the voting age has been lowered to 16, young people have shown an interest in voting.”
In 2013, when Takoma Park, Maryland, lowered its voting age to 16, registered voters under 18 had a turnout rate four times higher than voters over 18. Young people contribute to society and are active members of it as listed in NYRA’s ‘Top Ten Reasons To Lower The Voting Age’.
So what changed over the years? Why are young people suddenly engaging with politics? Why have we started to exercise our rights to vote?
Injustices of 2020
This year has been a rocky ride, to say the least. However, young people unknowingly flourished. Young people across the UK have gone out of their way to promote change. Back in June, Black Lives Matter protests, set off in response to the death of George Floyd in America, highlighted the racial injustice that is practiced in the UK.
Not only were the youth of the UK standing in unity with our peers across the pond, we were also standing up for ourselves. And this is just the beginning. Following this were the mass demonstrations against climate change and in particular the High Speed 2 project run by the Extinction Rebellion (read more about this ➡️ here.) Their impact was immeasurable with their work successfully delaying the publication of newspapers like The Sun.
Young people have truly shown that they care deeply about their communities
Then came the A-Level protests in response to the fiasco of grades awarded to Y13 last year. Petitions were shared and protests decorated the Houses of Parliament.
Simultaneously, young people’s support for the LGBT+ community, following the tirade of JK Rowling’s transphobia and transphobic attacks in America grew. Information posts and hashtags were shared across social media with petitions even being set up. And there were many more expressions of youth activism. Young people have truly shown that they care deeply about their communities and have displayed how influential they can be when it comes to promoting change.
The reason behind why there has been a 23% increase in young people registering to vote is unclear. It is plausible to believe that the events of this year have awakened a collective drive within the younger generations, especially in London. The correlation between the rise in youth voters and the rise in youth activism is there and it’s evident.
London, being the beating heart of the country, is full of rich diversity; diversity that should be represented politically. Even though this might seem like a small percentage, this 23% increase is a great achievement for young people as we’re now having our voices heard. And hopefully, our voices will continue to be heard.
So, if you’re of age to vote, do so!