I was one of the 75% of 18-24 year olds who voted to remain in the European Union. That means I’m one of the 36% of 18-24 year olds who turned up to cast their ballot on 23rd June last year. These two statistics don’t sit comfortably together for me. The UK voted to leave by a narrow margin, 51.9% to 48.1%; had young people gone to the polls and made their voice heard might there have been a different outcome?
We are now facing the greatest political upheaval of recent history. The UK is entering into a complex and lengthy negotiation process; there is simultaneously so much at stake and so little certainty. Whatever the outcome it is young people that will feel the consequences the longest. It is estimated that young people will have to live with the decision of the referendum for an average of 69 years. This makes the referendum the arguably the most significant political event of my generations lifetime, but one where the majority of young people did not vote. While a staggering 90% of those over the age of 65 voted in the EU referendum, a group that were overwhelmingly leave.
A vote represents a chance to secure or change the future of how your country is governed. The upcoming election will determine the direction of UK policy, including how Brexit is implemented. However young people are massively under represented on the electoral register and youth turnout at elections is the lowest in Europe (among the 15 old EU members). With young people are not turning up to vote is it any wonder that government is handing them a disproportionate burden from austerity, in the form of welfare and public spending cuts. Young people are often accused of political apathy but this seems unjust, there exists a lively debate on social media, but as far as registering to vote and actually voting on the day, young people have a long way to go if they are to make their voices heard.
Brexit has shown us a divided Britain, across generations as well as economic, social and geographic lines. This is not a call to arms to rally against those who voted leave, but rather a call for action. What is most striking is that young people who will feel the repercussions of such political decisions most significantly are those least involved in the political process. The referendum result was dictated by those middle-aged and older, this should not continue. We must be vocal in our demands of what we want from government. The voice of young people should be the loudest not an unheard corner of society.
Whatever your political opinion may be, make sure it’s heard on 8th June.
Register to vote here: https://www.gov.uk/register-to-vote