If you are 16 years of age, you can marry, enter into a civil partnership, join the armed forces, become the director of a company and if working, pay income tax and National Insurance. But 16 year olds cannot vote in elections.
I have had the privilege of working with young people across the town in youth wings, youth organisations and schools. Our Crawley young people have an interest in the political system and many of them have said if they had the vote, they wouldn’t have been hit so hard over the last few years with the onslaught of cuts against them.
You can see their point. Youth centres have had huge cuts to their funding. School sports funding gone. Tripling of university fees. Educational Maintenance Allowance axed. If they had the vote would they have been so hard hit?
Voter turnout is poor. You just have to look at the recent Police and Crime Commissioner elections. We need to look at ways to reinvigorate political debate and seeing the West Sussex and Crawley Young Persons Council in action, it is clear young people in Crawley have strong views and want to be heard. A move to reduce the age of voting would surely encourage more young people to get involved in politics and have elected representatives truly representative of our town.
In Bewbush and Oriel youth wings and across the town, Crawley young people are now on the UK Youth Parliament, West Sussex Youth Cabinet and Crawley Young Persons Council, all making a difference to their community. But when it comes to vote, they are not allowed to step foot into a voting booth.
Labour introduced citizenship into the National Curriculum. Rather than cutting this, as this government wants, we should be encouraging the teaching of citizenship and politics in schools. Evidence shows they if someone votes their first election they are likely to carry on voting.
Sixteen and 17 year olds hold so much responsibility and it is time to redress the fact they are not allowed to vote. Having a stake in the election process may also discourage politicians from targeting this age group with devastating cuts and the removal of services.
By Cllr Chris Oxlade
West Sussex County Council (Lab, Bewbush and Ifield West)