'We're too often unheard': Youngsters explain why they'll vote for the first time in today's local elections

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There’s ‘work to be done’ to engage young voters by local government, young people say

For most people voting in today’s local elections, the only difference compared to previous years will be the introduction of voter ID.

But for those who’ve recently turned 18 – or for whom there hasn’t been an election since they did – it will mark their first opportunity to formally participate in the process.

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This is important because “we are the next generation” and will “have to deal with the effects and consequences of the policy created in the present in the future”, as one 18-year-old from Huntingdonshire put it.

Peterborough City Council's Chief Executive Matt Gladstone with Peterborough's Youth MP Eva WoodsPeterborough City Council's Chief Executive Matt Gladstone with Peterborough's Youth MP Eva Woods
Peterborough City Council's Chief Executive Matt Gladstone with Peterborough's Youth MP Eva Woods

“It’s extremely important to have our voices heard so we can shape the future to be better for ourselves,” he said.

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The issues most important to him, he continued, are education and the environment.

“It’s important that we are well-prepared with a good skill set for the future. Taking care of the environment is also very important.

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“On a local scale, we should crack down on littering and make sure we have enough waste disposal services so that fewer people feel the need to litter.”

Young people 'aren't out of touch'

Young people’s importance in the future of politics is also an important factor in voting for Jen, 20, from Peterborough.

“If young people can make important decisions early on it will engage us with social and political activism and means we have a voice, since we are too often unheard,” she said.

Young people also aren’t usually “out of touch”, she added, while “voting in local elections could mean there’s change for the better, starting in my city”.

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Jen continued that cost of living and support for the NHS are the most important issues to her, as “I’ve seen first-hand in our hospital, patients literally on beds in corridors”.

Not all young people 'understand the role of local government'

Engaging young people with local politics is part of the remit of Eva Woods, Peterborough’s Youth MP, who says that despite being a month off voting age herself she has been encouraging her friends to get involved with the election.

But there are several difficulties, she says. One of them is that “lots of people don’t see their future in the city”.

“Either they’re based in multiple places because they’re living at home and studying somewhere else or they’re planning on studying or moving somewhere else soon,” she said.

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They also might not “understand the role that local government has in representing them and what actually falls under their remit”, Ms Woods continued. “I think if they did they would be more invested in voting in local elections.”

The unfamiliarity of voting can also make it seem a “lonely and daunting experience” which many choose to avoid.

Turnout generally lowest among youngest voters

Turnout at local elections is consistently low compared to general elections: last year, turnout was 33.6% in England and just 30% in Peterborough.

And, while turnout by age isn’t recorded at local elections, at general elections 18–24 year-olds are the least likely group to vote according to the British Election Study.

So what would encourage young people to engage?

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Ms Woods says that there’s “definitely work to be done by members of the local government to make young people feel like they are part of decision-making”.

“Lots of work gets done on a national level to engage young voters and I don’t think so much does get done on a local level and if it does it doesn’t reach us,” she said.

Councillors could speak to school pupils, she said, and schools should welcome a "two-way relationship with local government" as sometimes they’re reluctant to do so for fear of appearing partisan.

She added that registering to vote at 16 should be seen as a “rite of passage” as “most of the people I’ve convinced to vote over the last couple of weeks weren’t registered”, while videos explaining the voting process could demystify the experience.

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“See voting as an opportunity to stand up for yourself without any scrutiny rather than seeing it as a lonely and daunting experience,” Ms Woods said in a message to young voters.

Council will 'continue to look for ways' to promote youth vote

A spokesperson for Peterborough City Council (PCC) said that it will “continue to look for ways to encourage younger people to use their vote”.

“Like all councils, we are fully committed to encouraging residents to vote in local elections, particularly young people,” the spokesperson said.

"This year we have worked with our Youth MP Eva Woods to find young people who are voting for the first time and willing to share their thoughts and feelings about doing so, in the hope this encourages other young people to get involved on election day.

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“We have posted regularly across our social media channels and council representatives have spoken to students and engaged with local media. We have also displayed posters around the city and our messages have appeared in multiple languages.

"In addition, we host the city's Youth Council which meets regularly and we facilitate the elections for the Youth MP, all of which raises awareness of local democracy and encourages participation.

"We will continue to look for ways to encourage younger people to use their vote, in conjunction with schools and colleges and the wider population who of course have a role to play in this as well."

Find out more about how to vote here.

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