An article I have written for the July edition of the Cardiff Times.

Where does the recent election result leave young people? Depending on their political outlook, many were possibly disappointed on the May 8th and arguably, rightly so, but as the political wheels already start turning, nothing can be achieved by looking back in regret. However, we should be very aware that though the Labour Party are still the largest part in Wales after the election, the Conservatives also achieved their highest vote share since 1992, giving them an increased influence.

In the midst of this disappointment, I have come across at least one thing both relatively surprising and positive; a piece on the Telegraph website that recognizes the impact of Conservative policies on social mobility. One of these policies is the proposal to phase out maintenance grants for students from households with less than a £42,000 annual income. These grants are a vital source of income for students whose parents can’t help fund their living costs through the course of their study. Simultaneously, the government spends billions of pounds on working tax credits as a subsidy for employers paying low wages for unskilled work. In this context it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to work out that this will make it harder to combat the, recently reported, approach of top London City firms to apply a poshness test to graduate applicants. If the maintenance grant goes there will be even less bright working class able to graduate and even have the slim chance of passing the poshness test. Young people have already taken the brunt of many of the funding cuts by the government, whether this be the abolition of the Education Maintenance Allowance, the increase in university tuition fees, plans to deny housing benefits for under 25 year olds or the closure of vital youth centres.

Perhaps the most significant proposal, in the context of our entire democratic system, is the intention of the Conservative government to scrap the Human Rights Act and replace it with a British bill of rights. It is hard to believe that only 15 years ago this was considered a major landmark in the British legal system. Within it, there are many important elements to protect young people and children. Not only does it ensure that all children have access to education, but also, that, they can express their own views and have their own beliefs, that they don’t experience abuse at home, that they aren’t forced to work, that they can freely practice a religion of their choosing, and much more.

Human rights can also provide a vital framework to encourage young people to take part in our democratic society, and to discuss and debate decisions made by public bodies about their lives. We should therefore be concerned about any changes which have an impact on the ability for more young people to get involved in politics or further alienate them from the political process.

Yet, in the midst of these significant concerns one debate outshines them all; that which thousands of young people contributed to, by taking to social media and  letting their views heard. For, while there was an absence of a youth voice in the stuffy political debates of Radio 4 and the Financial times etc leading up to the election and concern over the percentage of young people ultimately voting, this debate is something that no election result can take away. It also a human right that we, as young people, should never give up on.

As this years election day approaches the debate surrounding who will be in power after 7th May is one which is impossible to avoid. An equally important question however, is how much will young voters affect the outcome? To answer this question we should consider whether our political system is achieving enough for young people. For political parties it is easy to guarantee safe votes by targeting traditional voters near an election by for example, protecting the winter fuel allowance and other benefits.

Alternatively, you can argue that one of the most important issues that is facing young people, in the form of zero hour contracts, have been frequently mentioned by both Labour and Plaid Cymru in the run up to the Election. Yet, as the Conservatives continue to announce falls in overall unemployment there seems to be no new radical approach from them, which will help those young people out of work, find work. This is concerning, when according to some figures the gap between youth unemployment and that of the general UK population stands at 14.4% and 5.7%, respectively.

Bite the Ballot is one among several youth-led initiatives to encourage young people to exercise their vote.

Bite the Ballot is one among several youth-led initiatives to encourage young people to exercise their vote.

It is also possible to argue that if young people want to have a stake in this country’s political system they must vote. Analysing statistics from Ipsos Mori that less than half (44 per cent) of 18-24 year olds voted (compared to more than 73 per cent of over 55s) in the 2011 election this may appear a convincing argument. Take a closer look, however, and you will find that many young people, this writer included, are deeply interested in politics. What they are not interested in are the hollow promises, infighting, hypocrisy and stagnation which, frankly, turns us all off. A 2012 study by Nottingham Trent University for example found that nearly two-thirds of 18-year olds claim an interest in politics, yet say they are “turned off” by politics and political parties. Just turn to Twitter and you’ll find debates aplenty, often young-person led.

To illustrate this, I will recall one memory that will always stay with me; a clip of an exchange involving Ed Milliband that was played on the newest series of Charlie Brooker’s Weekly Wipe. Asked by a young member of the audience; “outside of politics, what experience do you have, what life experience do you have to associate and indicate that you should be the one to represent the people of Britain?”, it seemed the Labour leader couldn’t provide a coherent answer. The best answer he could provide was “Well, I’ve done a number of things which I think, I hope, are relevant to this, so I was obviously an economic adviser in the Treasury, and I think that’s important”. That is great Ed, but that has no relation to ordinary people’s lives, young or old.

To me his answer says a lot; if more young people are to be truly engaged in our political and electoral system, politicians have to make more effort to genuinely listen, be accessible and talk to young people in a language they can understand. They need to make more effort to fix a system which many young people understandably see as broken.


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