Trust young people to make their vote count

With the general election looming, our thoughts turn to prospects for the future and as the old joke about someone asking the way goes “if I were you, I would not start from here!”

Alison O’Sullivan is a former ADCS president
Alison O’Sullivan is a former ADCS president

Inequalities seem wider than ever. Life expectancy is now falling and shockingly, infant mortality has risen for the third consecutive year. Next year will see a refresh of the seminal 2010 review by Sir Michael Marmot, Fair Society Healthy Lives. The picture will be bleak, no doubt reflecting widespread food and fuel poverty, and almost one in three children and young people growing up in poverty.

Marmot also says that inequalities can only be addressed through the empowerment of individuals, communities and societies. For this to happen, individuals need material security, power over their lives and a political “voice”.

Children and young people will be those most affected by decisions made today, yet they are often denied a voice in both local and national politics. They have a right to have their say and be listened to.

Children and young people are passionate about the issues facing the country including climate change, serious violence and mental health, and we are seeing a resurgence in grassroots political movements spearheaded by the young, who feel their concerns are not being heard by those in power.

On 12 December, there will be a new cohort of young people voting for the first time – those denied a say in the referendum of 2016 have now reached voting age and will be considering where to cast their first vote.

The National Children’s Bureau manifesto for the election calls for a childhood strategy built on the principle that children and young people must have a say in the political process. To enable this: first, the voting age should be lowered to 16 (surely, if young people are old enough to work, pay taxes, start a family and join the army, they are old enough to vote); second, we should support children and young people to campaign and participate in the democratic process; and third, we should give children and young people a say in all local decisions that affect them.

The next government must renew our democratic offer and provide meaningful opportunities for all children and young people to be involved in the political process. Policy makers must ensure that this generation are not permanently disillusioned by the turmoil in British politics brought on by Brexit or the fact that they were sidelined in a decision that would affect them for decades to come.

After many years of involving young people in the process of recruiting senior staff, I came to the conclusion that we should just let the young people decide. They invariably got it right because they saw people for who they really were. Given that what we need in politics for the next phase is honesty, integrity and openness, perhaps we should just leave the young people to do the choosing – after all, it’s their future which is at stake.