Steve Brooks outlines measures that could improve political engagement among young people in Wales.
It’s no news to say that youth engagement in formal politics is in a pretty parlous state – particularly when it comes to turnout, both in Wales and across the UK. Just 43% of 18-24 year olds voted in the last Westminster election: the gap between engagement in politics between young people and old people is growing.
Today marks four weeks until the Assembly election. And many people are beginning to argue it’s time to do something about this worrying generational gap that represents a ‘ticking time-bomb’ in terms of democratic representation.
Ahead of the Assembly Elections in May, Click on Wales is profiling some ofWales’ leading organisation’s ‘big asks’ for politics and policy in the fifth assembly.
We’ll be posting each of the pieces in our ‘manifesto series’ category, which you can keep up to date with here.
Turnout was just 42% at the last Senedd election – and although there’s not a great deal of data, it’s highly likely that figure was much lower for young voters: who, in addition to not voting, are also far less likely to be registered to vote.
This will have been exaggerated this election by the UK government’s rushed shift to Individual Electoral Registration – IER – where voters register individually. Universities can now no longer register their students en masse. So we’re at risk of the generation gap widening, unless the public sector and NGOs work together to reverse the trend.
On top of that, in 2014 Funky Dragon – the Youth Assembly for Wales – lost all its Assembly funding. This leaves Wales the only country of the UK without its own youth Parliament.
There are things that can be done. The creation of youth mayors would go a long way to improving the visibility of young people in politics here, while strengthening school councils by giving them a statutory basis would go a long way to giving students across the country experience of how politics works at a really local level.
Experience should go alongside knowledge. We have seen some foot-dragging on citizenship education, so parties need to fully commit to implementing the recent Donaldson review recommendations to give young people in Wales the civic and political education they deserve.
Wales will soon get many more powers over issues that cover democracy once the Wales Bill passes. Elections will be devolved, including areas such as the franchise. This means that Wales will be able to follow Scotland’s suit in introducing votes at 16 and 17 – something which proved incredibly successful during the Scottish referendum.
In July last year the Welsh Assembly published its consultation on votes at 16, which showed that With 10,375 young people consulted, 53% of young respondents were in favour of votes at 16; 29% against; with 18% stating ‘don’t know’. It’s a great mandate among young people for genuine reform.
It’s time to take action to achieve the change needed to restore young people’s voice in politics in Wales.
Today, we’ve launched six ‘youth pledges’ we want political parties in Wales to back, ahead of the Welsh Assembly election.
‘Youth Promise: Getting Young People Involved in Democracy’ is ERS Cymru’s call to action for Welsh political parties in the run-up to May 5th, calling for parties to get behind a six key changes AMs can make over the next five years.
The calls are being supported by a range of youth organisations including Youth Cymru and NUS Wales, the two main youth organisations in Wales, as well as Llais Ifanc, Youth Cymru’s Young Leadership Panel and UK-wide democracy organisation Bite The Ballot – meaning there is overwhelming consensus among youth and democracy organisations on the need for action across Wales to give young people more of a voice in politics.
The ‘Youth Promise’ calls on parties to back:
An independent National Youth Assembly for Wales
Extending the vote to 16 and 17 year olds for local and Assembly elections
Creating statutory Youth Mayors and Youth Councils for every local authority
Giving the roles and responsibilities of school councils a statutory footing
Requiring local authorities and educational bodies work together on voter registration drives
Improving Citizenship Education by implementing the Donaldson Review’s recent recommendations
These six policies, if implemented, could make a huge difference to youth engagement in politics here in Wales. There is so much that needs to be done, but these would be an incredible start early on in the next Assembly, sending a strong message to young people that their voices matter and will be heard.
ERS Cymru and the supporting organisations will be writing to the six main party leaders this week to ask them to back the recommendations. With manifestos still coming out, there is time for some cross-party commitment on these policies.
Taken together, these policies are a recipe for a revolution in youth politics here in Wales. Those who want to see the ‘generation gap’ in terms of youth engagement in Welsh politics close very much hope the party leaders listen.