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Articles > Current Affairs April, 28, 2015

Logic fail: 16 and paying taxes, but I can’t vote

Rebecca Morton
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There are 35 constituencies in England and Wales where at least 20% of the voting age population are between 18 and 24 years old; 17 of these were marginal seats in the 2010 election. Yet going on current statistics, this demographic is unlikely to have the dramatic impact it could on the upcoming general election, with only 44% of the age group voting in 2010. Clearly something needs to be done. The Institute for Public Policy Research recently recommended that young people should be forced to vote, yet this fails to tackle the root cause of the problem, a lack of political engagement. Reducing the voting age to 16 could provide a golden opportunity to engage voters in the political system from a younger age.

Lowering the voting age will engage young people in politics

Photo by Kodak Views

In the Scottish independence referendum last September, when the voting age was reduced to 16, 109,593 16 and 17 year olds voted. Clearly this was a vote with high participation across all age groups due to the general feeling that every vote would count in this opportunity to bring real change. Yet, the Scottish referendum did crucially manage to persuade 80% of 16 and 17 year olds to vote, providing key lessons for the General Election in May. It was not only the lowering of the voting age, but sustained campaigning, targeting young voters through youth debates which engaged this generation. Lowering the voting age alone is not a magic solution to political apathy among the young, but combined with other efforts, such as the compulsory teaching of politics in schools, it could be key in engaging the youth of today in politics for life. Opponents claim that 16 year olds don’t know enough about politics to be trusted with the vote. Lowering the voting age would be the perfect excuse to change this through education and engagement.

At 16 you can leave home, get married, pay taxes and even join the army, so why not vote? It is at this age that many begin to think about further education or a career, yet the key decisions on these issues are being made by politicians that young people did not vote for.

The failure to engage the younger generation has resulted in their interests being ignored by politicians. This vicious circle means that the age group is becoming increasingly disillusioned in the political process. 76% of over-65s voted in the 2010 general election, in comparison to a meagre 44% of 18-24 year olds. Looking at figures like these it is easy to see why issues affecting young people, such as youth unemployment and housing are neglected by politicians and the group are repeatedly let down over promises on university tuition fees. It is not surprising that the Conservatives promote policies like protecting the winter fuel allowance for pensioners, whilst ignoring the issues that affect young people, when this demographic is far more likely to vote.

Students could be key in swinging the vote in the May General Election. To ensure the powerful voice of today’s youth is heard we must engage them in the political process. Lowering the voting age, combined with a sustained effort to engage through education and debate is a key way we can do this.

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  1. Hannah

    I know of people born but days before May 7th (97) who had no interest in politics but were able to vote, and others born on May 8th (97) with lots of insight and opinions who wish they could have voted. It’s okay if they don’t want to vote but there are three days between these two people and one was unable to vote.
    I at least think that the voting age should be extended to include seventeen-year-olds in the same academic year as there is no difference between their level of education, political informedness, and affectation by policies than those only days or months older.

    What also peeves me off is the fact that 18-year-olds who only became so in January and don’t care about policies are slagging off 17-year-olds who will turn 18 in June who want to vote and ask for the older peers to vote for them by proxy. The eighteen-year-olds say “we all waited until we were 18”, but don’t seem to understand that they have been in education and only have memories of being alive for as long as the younger people in their classes yet these people, through no fault of their own, will not get a say in their equal future for another 5 years.

    It’s simply unfair on the people who turn 18 between now and September, because they are as affected as people born last week and (as polls in colleges suggest) also more concerned with politics than the older students in their year.

    I also think that if children, parents, and schools know from a younger age that at 16 they will able to vote then they will all become more active in promoting political knowledge on students and helping them form opinions. If not, it presently seems to take a few years after people acknowledge they can vote at 18 to become politically aware in time for the next vote, so if this happens at 16, instead, more students will have made themselves aware by the time they are 18. So, we could, at least, change the age to vote in local council elections to 16 – the next two years at this point vital.

  2. Safurah Hussain

    An amazing article so true and allowing 16 year olds to vote will increase the political knowledge of many young students and can also lead to an increase in voter turnout

  3. anonymous peter

    what a joke

  4. Stephanie

    I agree with you fully.

  5. Az

    Not really true as there are a lot of immature teenagers and don’t know who they would vote for or anything

  6. P Hart

    To say that all 16 year olds are immature is to stereotype greatly and is to demonstrate an incomplete and dismissive understanding of this age group. I know many 16 year olds who have been volunteering for a while and they are perfectly mature. As a result of being born later in the year (June) one of my friends cannot vote and another can, despite both of them being mature enough to decide and being in the same academic year. It is not a case that overnight, on the eve of your 18th birthday, you turn magically into some adult mature enough to vote, which is what many people seem to think when they deny to 16 year olds the vote.

    It is simple enough- if 16 and 17 year olds are engaged enough in politics, then they will vote- that is what happened in Scotland. Maybe then politicians (and this is a forlorn hope, I know!) may start to acknowledge how important young people actually are and introduce policies which would help them, encouraging more young people to vote.

    I paid taxes when I was 16, and I look forward to voting in this election for a party that actually acknowledges that you can be mature enough to engage in politics from the age of 16. Once people laughed at giving working classes the vote. Then they laughed at giving women the vote. Hopefully now we will finally understand that 16 and 17 year olds are mature enough to be given the vote.

  7. Abigail

    Being 17, I can say that whilst some 16 and 17 year olds are maybe too immature to vote, the majority are not. Giving 16 and 17 year olds the chance to vote would surely encourage them to broaden their knowledge in politics and in the world in general. However, I do think that should they be given the opportunity to vote, politics should be included on the schools’ curriculum. I am a few weeks off being able to vote but if i was able to, I would not know who to vote for. Giving them an education in it, instead of the subject which I found pointless in school such as ‘citizenship’, would mean that the majority would not abuse their vote and if at that age they had no interest in politics what so ever, I would argue the are more likely to not vote at all than to vote for a random party. We as an age group are underestimated in the country for reasons such as our lack of responsibility in being able to have our say.

  8. Eleanor Winterson

    For many reasons, the first being that a sixteen-year-olds world view is, on the whole, marginally small, they are immature, prone particularly to peer pressure, hormone imbalance, etc. The point here should not be ‘sixteen year olds should vote’ it is that they ‘should not be allowed to enlist in the army or have to pay taxes’. You’re right on that; the age for all of that should match up. But why lower the voting age? Start with the “compulsory teaching of politics in schools” as you suggested and have an aware and invested generation of 18-year-olds who understand politics through years of learning it.

    • Anonymous

      I don’t think you can generalise and say all 16 year olds are ‘immature’ and have a small world view Eleanor. Many will have already entered an apprenticeship, volunteer in their community or be actively involved in politics. Who is to say that these individuals are less ‘mature’ than an 18 year old or even someone older. Surely the ‘immature’ ones with a small world view probably wouldn’t bother to vote anyway, given the low turnouts in our country (another issue which needs to be tackled). As to your point that instead 16 year olds should not be able to pay taxes, as many enter employment at this age this is clearly impractical. If they earn enough to be taxed they should.

      • Eleanor W.

        Of course I can generalize – it’s not like everyone else magically skipped those years when they were growing up. I myself am only 20; I personally find 18-year-olds too immature but they’re mostly preoccupied with the first taste of independence at uni to be too bothered to vote. Any teenager that makes more than the personal allowance of £10,600 would not be in school, where they should be. Think about it this way; why are teenagers not included in the civil service of jury duty? Of course, you will likely not agree with me, but trust me, if the majority of the population thinks it’s a good idea to postpone the voting age, it’s not an attack on you, it’s us reflecting on what we were like when we were that young, as compared to now. The difference in time is so little between three years, but you will likely realise you are an entirely different person between point A and point B. That’s what I mean when I say ‘immature’. I don’t mean that you will vote for the most asinine party because you think it would be funny, but because who you vote for is likely not actually in the best interest of you when you are at 18, more likely 19. Besides, being an adult sucks. Voting sucks when political parties suck. The only reason I remember wanting to vote was because I couldn’t do it – and this was brought up when my school did a mock-vote for the upcoming elections. We had a great turnout. People my age were also more likely to get black-out drunk because they couldn’t legally drink, as opposed to now at 20, when most of my friends have it out of their system. Pretend to be a kid for as long as you can; our lifespans can accommodate it.

  9. Courtney Gear

    I think it all comes down to how mature 16 year olds are. Some could abuse their vote and not realise what impact it has. But I agree that there are young people who want to vote and should be able to vote. It all comes down to maturity

  10. James Taylor

    Totally agree with this article!

  11. Olivier de Pomplemousse

    16 year olds should be able to vote