Focusing on political engagement

24 Aug 2013

In recent times, there has been a growing concern that people, in particular young people, in Britain are becoming increasingly disengaged by politics.

This was highlighted by the turnout rate in the 2010 General Election, where only 65.1% of those registered turned out to vote. Although general election turnout has increased since 2001, these figures fail to compare to the turn out rates before 2000. For example in 1997, where turnout was 71%.

 

A recent survey conducted by the University of Essex reports that ‘younger people are even less likely to vote in general elections than older people’. 

In my experience, political engagement is based on confidence and trust. If young people feel that the government truly cares about them, they begin to develop confidence in the government. This level of confidence varies widely across the United Kingdom. After my election to Worcestershire Youth Cabinet, I was delighted to be interviewed by my local newspaper, theKidderminster Shuttle, they wrote that “the belief that young people are not interested in politics has been challenged in the Wyre Forest.” The two weeks of voting for Worcestershire Youth Cabinet saw a 14% turnout, equalling that of the West Mercia Police and Crime Commissioner elections. This statistic alone shows that young people are as interested in their communities as the ‘quite not so young’, even if engagement is low for both.

The report from Essex University goes on to suggest that young people ‘have a distinct lack of interest in politics compared with older adults’, and ‘display comparatively weaker commitments’. By way of contrast, although recent reports have suggested that whilst young people may have little interest in politics there is clear evidence that they young people are interested in their communities. 

Just to choose one example, the work of the UK Youth Parliament and its regional youth cabinets go further to challenge the view that young people are typically apathetic. In actual fact, the Youth Parliament since its establishment in 1998 has made a significant impact on the lives of Britain’s young people, and has won support from each of Britain’s main political parties.

Such organisations have encouraged political parties from across the spectrum to take keen interest in the concerns of young people, and inspired them to initiate positive opportunities that work in partnership with young people. As a consequence of this, young people are likely to feel more confident, and encouraged to adopt a ‘can do’ attitude.

Developing effective positive opportunities often relies on a partnership between three key institutions; local government, community organisations, and the young people themselves, and there are examples of such partnerships all over the UK. Such organisations give young people the opportunity to ‘buy’ into their communities; this ethos has been strongly endorsed by local, regional and national governments, and providers of services for young people. Not only engaging young people in order to make an active change to their communities, Worcestershire Youth Cabinet goes much further in inspiring young people to have a keen interest in the community, and equipping them with a ’can do’ attitude.

The conclusion from the reports taken by Essex University tell us that in opposition to the “common stereotype of a politically apathetic generation”, there is a group of young people who are “interested in political affairs”. This suggests that more needs to be done to “help young people see the potential value” in engaging in politics, and to help young people believe that the vast majority of politicians and local councillors “are motivated by a sincere and transparent concern to listen to their voices, and act upon them.”

Organisations such as the UKYP already do a great deal to help young people become engaged by politics, but do we need to go this step further to lift engagement to a higher level? What are your thoughts?

By Craig Bateman

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