In pre-pandemic times I and two of my friends sat around a Wetherspoons table and somehow – like it always does – politics came up. One of them purposed that there were too many old people in politics and there should be a cut-off point in terms of age. The table soon dissolved into an argument of how you would be marginalising an age group, who have tonnes of experience and wisdom and should have a right to be involved.
The point of the argument is that there should be younger people in government and that government overall should be more diverse.
Since 1979 the average age for UK MPs has been in the 50-59-year-old age bracket. Also, look at the recent USA presidential election where the choice was from one old white man to another old white man.
There is also the common notion that as you get older you become slightly more conservative. Intellectual curiosity and the ability to process information starts to decline, and this can be a sharp contrast to young people who are typically more liberal.
We, therefore, have to think about how young people could benefit political issues.
Young people take key issues to heart and see education on these topics and the fight for change as important. Climate change, for example, where many have already made switches on the individual level. From using reusable metal straws, to recycling, battling fast fashion and trying to turn to sustainable practices young people now want their attentions turned on making major changes. Just 100 companies are responsible for 71% of greenhouse gases emitted according to The Carbon Majors database. Even children in primary school have been seen to strike in school over climate change. There are arguments about whether their opinions are true or influenced by their parents and teachers. But if even children have concerns about the world that they will grow up in, shouldn’t we listen to them?
Mental health is another key point, especially in this pandemic. Feelings of anxiety, depression and loneliness have skyrocketed during self-isolation and people in general – not only the young – have argued for better services and improved support. The NHS is a powerful tool, but budget cuts have impacted greatly, and we are all feeling the strain.
I could go on and on about matters which have been protested about just in recent months. From Feminism, which covers issues such as the sexual assault allegations across the world and abortion rights, to Black Lives Matter and police brutality. We protest over a new tragedy each month, shouting George Floyd or Breonna Taylor and many, many more. On a smaller scale, take the controversy of the Sainsbury’s 2020 Christmas advert, which showed a black family chatting over their hopes to have a physical Christmas dinner together. Many argued that they did not find it relatable and threatened to boycott Sainsbury’s. The point was not to relate to the actor’s skin but to relate to family togetherness, especially in tough times like these. We understand how these actions are wrong, yet it still happens to this day. That is because changes are not being made in the right places.
Young people are engaged in politics and can bring these issues closer to the government. They believe in a true representation of the people, where the government is not only white men but people from all walks of life. Yes, we are already becoming more diverse in politics – for example, the first female vice president, and many first LGBTQ+ senators being elected – but it has taken this long to see these changes.
The problem is that young people are not connected to politics. They have lost faith in the governments that rule over them and see them as influenced more by money than morality. Here in the UK, there was recent outrage after MPs were given a pay rise yet important motions in law were rejected, like continuing to provide free school meals for children.
Also, young people do not see themselves represented and when they do voice their opinions they are quickly put down and dismissed. The common put down is that young people are not aware of the world at large and that they do not know what they are talking about. That, however, could not be more wrong.
Take Greta Thunberg for instance, who despite her incredible efforts, is still seen as just as a teenage girl shouting off in the media. Perhaps then there needs to be a shift on not only who is demanding change but on what they are demanding change for.
One of the arguments made by my friends during that original debate was that the older generation will probably not even see the social changes being made. Absolute change takes years, if not decades, to happen. It makes even more sense that change needs to occur now so that it happens sooner rather than later.
So, where do we even start?
Faith needs to be restored in politics and that is not going to happen overnight. Frankly, we don’t have that much control over it immediately. But we can be more educated.
Start in how politics is approached in school. I was not in education that long ago and even then politics was barely spoken about. A mere mention when an election was taking place and a small one-hour lesson on how our political structure worked: that was my education in politics.
Everything was up to me. In addition, we as a country are not good at breaking national policies into what it would mean for individuals. This can lead to a sense of people not caring or taking a step back because they feel that they don’t belong.
But the young is a massive demographic in terms of voter turnout. It is believed that it could have been a massive influence into Biden taking the 2020 presidency and on a more British scale, many of my age demographic would have voted to Remain in the EU.
I just missed out on voting for Brexit and I am fully behind the notion of lowering the voting age to 16. Many under 18 years olds take on adult responsibilities and already have a political stance. Lowering the voting age would make the demographic feel heard in a society where they are expected to follow the law but have no say in it. It’s a small step to restoring faith and decreasing the feeling of being disenfranchised.
In an even smaller way, listen to young people. Don’t put their opinions down and instead help to lift them up. Point them in the right direction if they have a question and don’t immediately dismiss them if their values don’t align with yours.
Going back to my original argument with my friends, whilst it was an extreme take on the issue, it answered a key question. Young people should be more involved in politics, they want to be, and that in itself is a change that we all need to encourage.