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.

Coming to university was a lot harder than I expected, as I encountered a whole new experience in a city I had never been to before. I have always been a shy person but as one, in an environment were many of my peers where quite loud and outgoing, I quickly felt lonely, overwhelmed and at times, quite depressed due to my social skills. Indeed, due to my difficultly socialising my relationship with my flatmates in university halls was at first quite strained. The problem was that I wanted to be good friends with them but my general anxiety had a big impact on how I attempted to do so. This also had an effect on my university work, as I became more and more stressed and so found it increasingly hard to concentrate on it. I knew I had to do something, so I went to my student services. They got my GP to refer me to speech and language therapy at Cardiff Heath Hospital. This was the beginning of a positive and ongoing process to greater confidence in my communication and social skills. I was increasingly outgoing, going to parties and becoming more comfortable within other similar social situations. I also made new and valued friends, including my university flatmates. Another situation where my social anxiety was particularly challenging was at presentations at university by myself or with others. Very often, I knew quite clearly what I wanted to say, but the words just didn’t want to come out. With the help of a bit of practise and the help of speech and language therapy this got a little better. Indeed, when I gave presentations as part of the Graduate Academy, feedback suggested it had improved quite a bit. Without this improvement in my social confidence I might not even have attended the Graduate Academy or involved myself in the Prince’s Trust.

A  group photo of the Summer 2014 GoWales Graduate Academy, including myself.

A group photo of the Summer 2014 GoWales Graduate Academy, including myself.

Though I am still a relatively shy person I have also been told by many people how determined I am and consequently, despite my personal challenges, I am intent on not letting this be a barrier to me in my future life or indeed, career. Consequently, though my strength lies with my written communication skills I am extremely eager to develop and strengthen my verbal communication skills with, in part, the help of Mind. I know this is possible because I do not let challenges become obstacles and as such, I also know that this mind-set is critical to achieve my goals. In the end I am glad I shared my worries during university. I have come to love Cardiff and with the help of the many good friends I have made here, including as a volunteer at Mind and SNAP Cymru, I am positive I can make even more progress. By volunteering at Mind I have built good working relationships with my colleagues and am confident I could do so again, if required at other organisations, in my future career. One of the ways I am challenging myself to increase my confidence is trying reception duties while being supported and learning with another volunteer. Through simply saying hello and interacting with visitors by developing my confidence to strike a quick and friendly conversation. Therefore, I am very confident I can develop my ability to do so for other situations like interviews, which I have found hard before.


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