The East Riding College column with principal Mike Welsh

Many of our students attended the BBC Radio 4 Any Questions debate at Bridlington Priory.
Many of our students attended the BBC Radio 4 Any Questions debate at Bridlington Priory.

I was delighted and encouraged to see strong representation from the College at the recent Any Questions debate hosted at the Priory by the Rotary Club of Bridlington.

Many of our students – including those under 18 who are not yet eligible to vote – attended the broadcast.

East Riding College principal Mike Welsh.

East Riding College principal Mike Welsh.

As someone who’s worked with young people a long time, I am not particularly surprised that they are easily motivated to engage with politics, a lot of them care deeply about our society and in the digital age, world affairs are never far from our screens.

You only have to look at the impact of the March for Our Lives protests in America and the most recent election in the UK where youth turnout was the highest it had been for decades, to see that young people are willing and able to make a difference. There were, however, 1.5 million 16 and 17-year-olds who did not receive this opportunity to vote in the last UK elections.

Young people aren’t necessarily disengaged with politics, they’re just not all being heard yet.

That’s why the college are championing the Fair. Vote campaign, lending support to a Private Members’ Bill introduced in Parliament last July to reduce the voting age to 16 in Parliamentary and other elections. The Bill is being given its second reading in the House of Commons on 11 May 2018.

It has received broad cross-party support which shows that the political appetite for change is there.

Scotland already have a voting age of 16, and Wales look likely to introduce it, so it would be unfair if in future UK-wide elections English and Northern Irish 16 and 17-year-olds were the only ones not represented.

Many 16 and 17-year-olds are contributing to the taxation system – a lot of our own students work alongside their studies - and the number of apprentices earning (and paying tax) are growing each year.

As it stands, our current system is taxation without representation. What’s more, 16 and 17-year-olds can hold responsibilities in our society beyond working, such as being carers, parents or volunteers.

Extending the vote would engage them further in the political affairs, current events, and democratic processes that impact their lives.

The Government recently made it compulsory for young people to stay in education, employment or training until the age of 18. This, and compulsory citizenship education means 16 and 17-year-olds are prepared to participate in civic life.

Having the vote at 16 would inspire even more young people to play an active role in shaping our society.

Our students are not apathetic. They care deeply about rising debt, access to education, and the inequality in our society that makes them the first generation in many years almost guaranteed to be worse off than their parents.

If they can leave home, join the armed forces, get married and pay tax, why shouldn’t they have a say in their future?