Young people are ‘bored’ with politics; No they aren’t.

Caitlin Prowle says modern day politics is off putting for young people.

‘Young people are disengaged and apathetic towards politics’ – it’s a phrase we hear used over and over again. As a 17 year old politics student, I am tired of hearing the media and politicians claiming that young people are simply disillusioned and uninterested, and ultimately using this as an excuse for low turnout amongst the younger generation. In my experience, studying in a sixth form where political participation and interest is encouraged and strengthened, I just can’t see that this statement is true, at least not to the extent that it is often claimed to be.

I’m not trying to pretend that all young people are excited, and have a keen interest in politics, because obviously there are many figures and statistics that would go against me. However, there are so many factors that contribute towards the supposed ‘apathy’ and I think that if we were to dig a little deeper, and go beneath the surface of this disinterest, we would find that, in many cases, young people are actually being discouraged from engaging with politics.

My generation were one of the first generations to be able to watch Parliament and the National Assembly for Wales on television. One would think that this would be a good thing; a direct way of experiencing the political system, seeing exactly how things work and how our country is run. The unfortunate reality is that this digitised viewing of politicians’ behaviour leaves young people (myself included) with a rather sour taste in their mouths, and leaves a negative impression overall. I remember watching an episode of Prime Minister’s questions when I was about 13, at a time where I was just beginning to develop a political interest and had started asking questions about politics. I don’t remember much from this experience, other than the constant chatter, shouting and thinking that the general impoliteness wouldn’t have been tolerated in my school classroom. It wasn’t until five years later, when I came to study politics that I watched it again. How can young people, be they children, teenagers or young adults, engage in politics when what they see on the television or online is behaviour that they would never dare to perform? How can they invest any trust or respect in people who can barely seem to summon the strength to act like adults themselves? Now, this is an example of a choice that young people must make. Do they sit back and endure the dramatic performances put on by politicians, endure the mockery, the eye-rolling, the shaking of heads, while they actually try to learn something? Or do they simply choose to ignore the whole procedure, do they decide to just carry on living their life without having to watch a circus of insults and bad behaviour? It’s easy to understand why so many people choose the latter.

When asked why so many young people turn away from politics, the usual response is that we are all ‘bored’. Bored by politicians, bored by education, bored by anything that requires a modicum of intellect. We are the ‘lad culture’, we are the generation obsessed with nothing but technology. We have rejected books and turned to video games. It would be wrong for me to claim that these statements don’t apply to some young people, or that influences such as the growth in technology don’t influence our lives in some way. However, to suggest that these things mean that young people are no longer enthusiastic and interested in the world of politics is equally incorrect. I cannot speak for every young person in the UK, that is impossible, but I can speak for my friends, my peers, the people I interact with on a daily basis. In order to prove to others (as well as myself) that it isn’t just me who’s angry with the notion that young people are simply ‘bored’ by politics, I spoke to some friends; friends from a variety of different backgrounds and of different ages. The response I received was one of passion, anger and disdain. One friend said this: “I feel as if the ‘bored’ excuse is used by the adults to make it look like we don’t care when in fact we care more than they know. I feel like adults are scared of what we’re capable of.” Another said: “It’s our future, why on earth would we be bored by the things that will directly affect our lives? That just doesn’t make sense”. Again and again these comments were sent to me; young people outraged by the idea that they are ‘bored’.

So why don’t these young people make a stand? Why don’t they contact their local MP or AM, get their voice heard, and participate in politics? My sixth form recently held a hustings event, where all of the local election candidates came into college on a quest to gain young votes. The auditorium was packed full of bright young minds, many of whom were 18 and ready to vote in the election. Despite our high expectations and excitement, we were all unfortunately severely underwhelmed after the event. It seemed that all of the candidates just confirmed what we already feared to be true; that all too often, politicians are all the same. We listened to the same bland list of promises over and over again. All of the candidates promised to try and lower tuition fees, all of the candidates promised that education would be their top priority, all of the candidates promised to be a young person’s ‘advocate’, providing they got our vote, of course. But did they answer our questions? Did they respond when grilled by students on funding for sixth forms? Did they encourage us to register to vote and ensure that we honour our right, no matter who we chose to vote for? No. No, instead they nattered on about their party’s manifesto, or their fantastic track records, or how much they had already supposedly done for the constituency. When we left that auditorium, the atmosphere was that of a fire that’s been dampened. The initial eagerness and zeal got replaced by crestfallen faces and whispers of a ‘waste of a lunchtime’. Now, I don’t think that can be referred to as boredom. Those candidates had a perfect opportunity to inspire young people to stand up and get involved, to create a foundation of trust, to educate. But unfortunately, that opportunity was wasted. Were the students in the room apathetic or uninterested? Or did they just feel let down, and like no one wanted to listen.

In the 1990s, a report was produced looking into how and why young people become detached from the world of politics. The report found that the main reasons that young people across the UK identified were that they felt ‘bored’ with ‘party political squabbles’, and felt that these were irrelevant to their lives. They also ‘consistently referred to their feelings of powerlessness and the limited opportunities for them to engage in politics until the age of 18.’ One thing this report did not produce was any evidence of apathy; these young people wanted to be involved in politics but felt that they were not given the power or respect to do so.

On the 30th of September, this year, it was announced that ‘Funky Dragon’, the National Children and Young People’s Assembly for Wales, would no longer receive vital funding from the Welsh Government. This decision made Wales the only nation in the UK or Europe without its own national Youth Assembly. As a former member of Funky Dragon, I was shocked and hurt to hear the news, as I was lucky enough to benefit immensely from the experience. After researching this news further, I discovered that the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, in the last UK State report, openly praised and encouraged ‘support forums for children’s participation’, and included Funky Dragon in their list of examples. Why then has an organisation that has led the way for youth political participation and has been credited for its efforts lost all its funding? Surely this is sending the wrong message to young people? It suggests that, essentially, the government don’t really care about educating and nurturing the interests of the next generation. Again, an example of disenfranchising and discouraging young people.

‘Young people are disengaged and apathetic towards politics’ – I go back to this. Is this a fair statement? Is this really something that applies to the youth of today? No, I don’t think it is. Young people are not detached, apathetic, disillusioned or any other adjective used by politicians to cover up their ultimate failure. Young people have the potential to be engaged, excited and involved in the way our country is run, we just need to be given the right resources, information, encouragement and respect to do so. The sooner the political minds of the present realise that they are discouraging the political minds of the future, the better.

Caitlin Beth Prowle is a 17 year old A level student at Hereford Sixth Form College. Caitlin formerly attended Ysgol Gyfun Gwynllyw, and was a member of 'Funky Dragon', the youth assembly for Wales. She has a keen interest in politics and Welsh affairs.

18 thoughts on “Young people are ‘bored’ with politics; No they aren’t.

  1. Thank you Caitlin, and welcome to the Jaded Party. We are a broad church but it is always encouraging to see new members joining. Our founding belief is that politicians are only interested in our votes and certainly not our opinions – particularly if our ideas are better formed than theirs.

    As you will have seen from this fine series of articles presented by the various parties to this forum, no politician seems willing to step forward and directly answer criticisms subsequently levelled at them by our learned contributors. It’s all about being set on TX not RX and using the media effectively.

  2. The abandonment of Funky Dragon is a prime example of Labour Party control freakery. What the Labour Party in Wales cannot, with certainty, control (and a youth parliament was likely to fall into that category) is bad and must not be allowed.

  3. I do not believe as a 70 year old that politics/politicians are as bad as portrayed by media,especially as much of life is BORING and repetive and getting things right,i.e education/rubbish collection/grass cutting isn’t ‘sexy’ in any way.The problem as I see it is that there is a disconnect between a)paying for services on an individual basis,and b)the receipt of public services which is just contained in a ‘mass’ and not individually charged/accounted for in a meaningful manner. I think it right that if young people aged 16 and working/paying taxes/contributing to society then THEY should have a vote but not in any other case. The idea that there is this huge ‘pot of money’ at end of rainbow,and ignoring the problems of running huge globally interconnected economy with mass movements of a)people,b)capital is not easy so lets cut some of politicians a bit of slack. In conclusion when these young people get to say 25 and in real world they will have had enough of the worlds a)opportunities,b)pitfalls and stress’s so I say to enjoy their youth/freedom rather than worrying about debt reduction,or marginal rates of taxation.

  4. This is a well written article which deserves an adult response. Caitlin, there is truth in the well worn phrase ‘politics is a dirty business’. The practice of Politics is not ‘ a vocation’ or a ‘service’ to the community/people/nation as is commonly touted by the politicians themselves. It is a sometimes brutal ‘adult’ activity or business with the sole objective of seeking ‘power’ and ‘influence’. Thus has it always been. This is why you have seen the rise and rise of the machines err..’professional’ politicians who have no life or work experience outside of political party machinations but can be well trained in the business of politics. This business attracts certain types of people examples of whom you can see in the media today. It is not (and probably has never been in history) a wholesome sight for adults let alone younger people.
    These professionals are playing a ‘numbers’ game. They really are not interested in young people’s opinions or views (which with the exception of yours!) may be uninformed, possibly inarticulately expressed. It is like coarse fishing. A suitable bait is put on the hook (tuition fees) the line is cast and fish collected into a keep net ready for voting. The fisherman doesn’t ask the opinion of the minnows.
    Politicians are also playing a ‘money’ game with seriously high stakes. Young people have little or no money and therefore cannot be ‘players’ or ‘stakeholders’ and are therefore irrelevant to this game. There is a lot at stake even at the local council level. This not about MP’s salaries or expenses, it’s about Power, the power to influence the flow of finance, contracts, warfare.
    I highly recommend that you read books by Robert A Caro, ‘The Power Broker’ and the three volume biography of Lyndon Johnson or even the eye opening ‘The Churchill Factor’ by Boris Johnson. This will give you insight into what really goes on in politics and you can make your choice of whether you want to play this game or not. Maybe we will see you on the doorstep one day when your skin has thickened. Pob lwc!

  5. The demise of Funky Dragon is a national disgrace. Wales was the first UK country to formally adopt the UNCRC and use this as a basis of decision making for children and young people, advocating a truly rights based approach. Similarly, it was the first UK Nation to appoint a Children’s Commissioner. This is a proud heritage which has been undermined by disbanding one of the main vehicles for young people’s participation within the political processs in Wales, thereby reducing the stated emphasis on children’s right to have a voice in decisions that affect their lives to mere rhetoric. Thank you, Caitlin, for highlighting this important issue.

  6. Diolch, diolch, Caitlin. You have educated me (and I’m sure many others) by the setting down of these powerful considerations from the critical perspective of an informed and articulate young person. Your exposition is exceptional in its clarity. Your passionate defence of the frustrated engagement of Wales’s young electorate is all the better for the concerted attack you launch on the idiotic and bizarre political practices of our political class and our institutions. I am guessing you do not rate the conduct of affairs in The Senedd as much above Parliament?? Carwyn Jones is probably the most contemptuous responder to scrutiny I have seen in 16 years of devolution, for example. Discuss…..

    Let’s face it, PMQTs and the two-party system (make that one party in our country) are the expression of constitutional decay and a culture so unnourished that it is rotting before our very eyes this GE campaign. If I am right (not always but I have had my moments…) you are saying, with good anecdotal evidence and solid experience of the now wounded Funky Dragon, that we are getting the inertia and disengagement that we ‘adults’ deserve. That’s a sobering judgement; and, changing the voting age down to 16 (which I support: do you have any views?) will not be the main fix to our reality of young people being turned off by politics, I guess. Last point: what resources beyond Funky Dragon funding and any other changes would you put out on the table to improve this most worrying situation? Time is pressing, as we are only about 10 months away from the elections that will really shape Wales.

  7. Congratulations, Caitlin. Your article has obviously struck a chord with people of different ages and political opinions. The disconnect felt by young people is felt by older people too. Chris gives a good analysis of some of the reasons for this. More and more, one feels we are living in an oligarchy posing as a democracy.

    Part of the problem may be that we have come to take the vote for granted. Rather than trying to ‘engage young people’ by making politics ‘fun,’ and turning it into just another branch of the entertainment industry, perhaps we should make it something to which they aspire. Howell is right that there needs to be a connection between contributing to the state and voting on how the state spends its money. Rather than have the vote come automatically at a given age, perhaps it should be a rite of passage. In ancient city states, it came with military service – and even today no one serving in the armed services, irrespective of age, should be denied the vote – but since we no longer need large armies, another mechanism is needed for the majority. Perhaps the vote should come at whatever age the individual becomes a net tax-payer. People value what they earn, so they would value the vote more if they had to earn it.

    Meanwhile, while Brian’s Jaded Party might appeal to us older folk – probably the only thing we have in common – we would be wrong to try to recruit you for its youth wing, Caitlin. Try as hard as you can to stay free of our compromise and pessimism.

    Who knows? You might escape them altogether and succeed where we have failed. After all, great things have often been done by people too young and inexperienced to realise that what they did was impossible!

  8. Your article is a sad reflection of the political situation as it is today, Cait. Instead of leading their people to freedom and equality, politicians are on their own pathway to a career in government. They lack passion and can’t understand people that still have it. Where did it all go wrong? I am sorry to hear the financial plug has been pulled on Funky Dragon. I hope they are able to carry on. That took many years to build into the well respected forum it is, and its demise would make us a ‘poorer’ nation. Is the question whether, ‘politicians have stopped listening to young people’, or is it ‘did they really every start’?

  9. A little known phenomenon which impacts hugely on young people is what is termed inter-generational equity (IGE) or more accurately, inter-generational inequity.

    Basically the baby boomers like me had it all – free university education, final salary pensions, cheap housing, universal state pension, free health care and subsidised social care. Unfortunately it is the younger generation which will have to pick up the tab for all this.

    And no – the taxes paid, in the past, by older people, like me, will not cover the costs of what we are now receiving. In 2014/15 the UK government had to borrow almost £100billion (on top of the existing debt mountain) to pay for, among other things pensions, free bus passes, the NHS, social care etc. This debt and associated interest will ultimately have to be repaid by our children and our grandchildren through their taxes ( A similar situation exists in the USA where the younger generation faces a grim future.

    Unfortunately, our politicians in the race to ingratiate themselves to older people forget to tell younger people who will have to pay for all this largesse. Also reliable information on the scale of IGE is difficult to come by – I wonder why? Maybe young people should start protesting about this scandal.

  10. Good article Caitlin, and for me you use a key word above which goes around my head the more this campaign goes on:

    “Those candidates had a perfect opportunity to inspire young people…”

    … the word ‘inspire’.

    All I seem to pick up on now is the slanging match element of politics, criticising for the sake of it. Basically trying to scare the electorate into not voting for the other lot, as opposed to inspiring the electorate to vote for him / her.

    Is this just the nature of it and is it naive of me to think that it could be something other than this format? I have only relatively recently got into following politics in any major way, so am unaware as to how much the fixation on scare tactics has always been the case in politics.

    I think it was one of the BBC Wales political correspondents in their blog today who likened the level of background campaigning to being like a level of ‘white noise’ with the electorate, and I think I am reaching that level now…

  11. Strange to continue to hear that Funky Dragon had their funding ‘cut.’ I thought they put a bid into the grant for young people’s engagement that Welsh Government were funding, but didn’t put forward a compelling enough offer to actually win under fair and open competition. Seems like they had every opportunity but didn’t step up.

    I suggest that FD find alternative sources of funding, of which many innovative options probably exist, or join in with the new engagement mechanisms in a positive way.

  12. Professor Prowle seems to have a bad case of generational guilt. I think I can help. When the baby boomers were born government debt to GDP ratio was at 250 per cent, a consequence of the Second World War. On the eve of the banking crisis in 2008′ that debt ratio was 38 per cent. The welfare state was constructed,all the boomers advantages enjoyed with a massive reduction of debt. Your taxes did pay, and more than pay, for all the benefits. The deficit blew out with the financial crisis, which undermined the UK tax base that had become too dependent on the financial sector. The deficit will take some time to remove but debt has risen to some 80-90 per cent of GDP still far less than the 150 per cent it was at in 1959 when Harold Macmillan told the British people they had never had it so good. And to whom do the British owe this debt? Mainly to themselves. All those government bonds are sitting in your pension funds or underlying your insurance policies. Never heard so much hysterical self-flagellation nonsense in my life. Cheer up Professor.


  14. R Tredwyn

    I suggest you read the relevant statistics not the ones you wish to look at. Look at the costs of servicing the current debt which will not decline unless the debt declines (which it wont). Look at the costs of health and social care for older people and the black holes in pension funds which can only be funded by more borrowing or higher taxes on working people (unless you believe the fairy tales about growth. If you want, I can send you the relevant data.

  15. Professor, I think you are ignoring some data yourself. The cost of current debt is zero. The government can borrow at negative real interest rates. In effect, the markets are telling the government to borrow more. As for the debt declining, it will do so during this Parliament as a proportion of GDP, which is what matters. In this country pensions have always been unfunded, ie paid for out of taxation. Nothing new there. There is a demographic shift but it is being offset by immigration. Direct taxes used to be much higher in the post-war era. The top income tax rate was 60 per cent until the late 1980s. The boomers have nothing to apologize for. Don’t bother to send me data. Just look at it less selectively yourself.

  16. I don’t think it is right that we dominate this blog which is to do with young people by a discussion of UK debt.

    However, my final comment is that in 2014, interest on UK government debt was £52bn (a billion per week) and this makes it the fourth largest component on public expenditure and it is catching up with the education programme. It equates to about half the budget of the NHS.

    Debt of this magnitude will squeeze out expenditure on public service programmes (at a time when the demands of the ageing population are increasing) and either mean cuts in spending in programmes or increases in tax levels. Either way, young people lose out.

    I think, we, the older generation, should hold our head in shame at the legacy we are leaving our kids. I think you need to read a little more widely

  17. When the baby boomers were paying down the post WW2 debt and building the welfare state the day to day cost of running the farm was less than it is now. Life expectancy is now much longer and health care inflation has run away. My grandparents worked hard all their lives, smoked, then died of cancer before the age of 70 – very typical for the day. Not much the NHS could do about it back then so relatively cheap for the state. Not as much of a tab for that baby boom generation to pick up compared to now. The welfare bill was also subsidised by a serious tranche of North Sea oil income in the latter years.

  18. If a discussion is important it is worth pursuing.
    Debt has doubled following the worst recession in 80 years. That is a pity but there is no help for it. Refusal to accumulate more public debt would prevented the private sector from starting to pay down its debt and would have led to a worse slump than the 1930s. The point at issue is whether there was excessive government spending before the financial crisis and slump. The evidence is in the government debt statistics that I have already quoted. The answer is no and you cannot produce evidence to the contrary.
    Even now there is no cause for panic and hyperbole. £52 billion sounds fearsome but it is about 3 1/2 per cent of annual GDP. That is neither an intolerable burden nor unusual for a developed country. People like homely and misplaced analogies so consider this: an average house-holder will take out a mortgage of three times annual income and be spending a third of their income on debt servicing. That is not irresponsible since they will leave the kids the house. Our kids will inherit physical and social infrastructure that would not be there in the absence of public investment. And a country is not like a household. At the national level, Interest payments unlike spending on education or health, do not use up resources. They are a transfer from one pocket to another. People pay taxes and the government pays interest back into their pension plan or their neighbour’s.
    A famous economist once said the main purpose of a training in economics is to stop you being bamboozled by economists. It also stops you being stampeded by a politically motivated panic.

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