Published on February 5, 2014 | by Caroline Schmitt


Labour plans to lower voting age to 16

Young people show their support for votes at 16

Many young people welcome the idea of being able to vote at 16. [Flickr: Joncitizen]

After Russell Brand’s remarks about a growing apathy in youngsters with regard to politics, the Labour party has recently proposed plans to lower the UK voting age to 16, in time for the 2016 London mayoral elections.

After Brand sparked a national debate in October 2013 by urging young people to not vote, Labour decided to tackle the “absolute indifference, weariness and exhaustion over the lies, treachery and deceit of the political class” which Brand criticised.

Samantha Choinski, a schoolgirl from west London, will turn 16 in two months. She told Arts London News: “I won’t vote because politics doesn’t interest me. In my opinion, we are still too young to make such important decisions. Most of my friends don’t even know how many parties there are and what [each one] stands for.”

Existing figures for voting participation among young adults underline this attitude. The Institute for Public Policy Research has shown that only 32 per cent of 18 to 24-year-olds voted during the 2013 local elections, leaving it to the older generations to make political decisions.

Driving force

Labour shadow justice secretary Sadiq Khan has been the driving force behind the changes. He wants to “re-shift responsibilities” among 16 and 17 year-olds to engage them in the political process and close the ideological gap between young and old.

16 year-old Lois Killeen, from Coventry said: “I would vote if I had the chance because it would make me feel like i had a say in something and that would be cool. But [politics] wouldn’t affect my interest unless it was something directly affecting me, like about school. [sic]”

Shelly Asquith, president of SUARTS and newly–elected NUS London chair, also welcomed the proposals but urged the government to invest further in education: “Young people will be incentivised to vote only if they know what is on offer, and if politicians make any moves to start properly representing their interests,” she said.

“Youth services and education have taken huge cuts in the last few years, and if Labour wants 16 year-olds to start voting, it ought to also start seriously offering them an alternative.” Asquith added.

Positive impact

Austria lowered the voting age to 16 in 2008, with some regions seeing the voting participation of 16 and 17 year-olds exceed older voters by up to ten per cent.

Markus Werner, political scientist at the University of Vienna, encouraged schools to provide information and political encouragement earlier on: “I think voting at 16 can have a positive impact on how young voters think about politics. Just having the right to vote will increase interest and attention. . . . What’s important is that schools use the opportunity to make students aware of politics and to motivate them to take part.”

A constitutional reform bill would need to go through parliament as soon as possible to have appropriate legislation in place for elections in 2016.


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