Young people are often those who are most engaged in politics, despite the common misconception that we don’t care or aren’t interested in political matters. Our issues are often misrepresented, with politicians claiming we only care about the legalisation of marijuana. But we are just as interested in transport policy, education reform, and foreign policy.

It’s time that society recognised this.

The more the political system and the press infantilise us, the more we will resist and demonstrate that we are engaged and paying attention.

We want our opinions to count!

The need for young voices

It is clear that young people are underrepresented in politics at all levels. The average age of MPs in 2019 was 51 years, with as many MPs aged over 70 as there are those aged 18-29. At present, Nadia Whittome is the youngest sitting MP, being 23 when she was elected. While it is great to see young people elected to political office, these instances are few and far between.

Local politics is plagued by similar problems. A study conducted in 2019 found that less than 1 per cent of people under the age of 25 are elected to represent their local area on councils. This is a serious drawback for local government as they are not able to benefit from the ideas of young people. Nor can they fully understand the issues that matter to young people. This lack of young minds in local government supports the general perception of it being stuffy and slow-moving, which is a pity. Local politics directly affects communities as opposed to national politics. In order to help provide vital services to communities up and down the country, we need young energetic people to be involved in this level of decision-making.

My foray into the world of politics

I recently stood for election to South Ribble Borough Council in the May 2021 local elections. My reason was simple; I wanted young people to have their voices heard. Even though I was a paper candidate, it is important that we see young people stand in elections to erode the notion that this is atypical for us. Given that I am one of the only active young people in my local party, I wanted to make sure that the issues we care about are taken seriously. One of the main things that put young people off standing is the lack of diversity. Just 15 per cent of councillors are under the age of 45, with 43 per cent aged 65 or over and 45 per cent being retired. This mature environment contributes to making young people feel out of place in local politics, effectively putting many of us off running for election.

Councillor allowances is another significant obstacle that prevents young people from standing for local government. In the borough where I was standing, the allowance for 2021/22 is £4826.55. While this figure varies significantly if councillors undertake additional roles or are within large cities (and is the result of council underfunding), it helps to illustrate why a majority of councillors are retired. Young people like myself are highly unlikely to be able to cope on this meagre allowance. Though it’s possible to get a part-time job alongside council work, this would be immensely difficult for the average young person given that employment — let alone part-time employment — is scarce. Juggling the two would certainly make any career advancement immensely difficult. Therefore, to be a councillor one must preferably have the means to an additional source of income. A report from 2013 suggested that the remuneration for councillors should be reconsidered in order to encourage more young people to stand for local government, but little has been done to take that up.

The need for better representation

The Local Government Information Unit runs an annual Young Councillor Award, which helps raise awareness for the great work that young people can do in local government. However, this will not resolve the issue by itself. Candidate selection processes need serious reform, becoming more transparent and welcoming to young people who have not stood for election before. Political education could tackle this problem, with more young people being made aware of the benefits of serving as local councillors in terms of building confidence and public speaking skills, as well as providing career and networking benefits.

Currently, there are broad misunderstandings about local government and the work that councillors actually do, which can easily be addressed with more substantive education. Ensuring that young people understand how services are provided locally will help raise civic engagement. Given the widespread damage to young people’s lives following the pandemic, society needs to hear their voice and the issues that trouble them.

Local government will be more effective if there is a broader cross-section of councillors representing local communities. Speaking to Tina Bhartwas, 19, who was recently elected to Hertfordshire County Council, she agrees:

‘We need more young people at every level of government because representation and participation in local democracy matters. A more diverse chamber leads to better decision-making and therefore better outcomes for our communities’.

DISCLAIMER: The articles on our website are not endorsed by, or the opinions of Shout Out UK (SOUK), but exclusively the views of the author.