Can teenagers be trusted with the vote?

At 18:45 GMT on Wednesday the 19th November 2014 the Free Word Centre presented a debate about lowering the voting age. This debate took place in the Free Word Lecture Theatre at 60 Farringdon Road, Clerkenwell, London. Video highlights can be found below and you can access a full-length recording of the proceedings here.

Right now, you have to be 18 years old before you can vote in the UK. If you’re under 18, you have to accept the consequences of the government’s actions, but you have no say in shaping them. Young people are given no control over decisions about their own education, the laws they have to live by and the economy that will drive their future. Which leads to the question: when do we become mature enough to make these important decisions?

In Scotland, the voting age was temporarily lowered to 16 for this year’s independence referendum – the first time anyone that young has been able to vote there. However, can people that young be trusted with the vote? Are we, at 16, mature enough to be given such an important decision? And, with young people amongst the least likely to vote, is there actually any point giving them the opportunity to vote? Or is this apathy in itself perhaps caused by a lack of trust from older generations?

As the UK began its preparations for 2015’s general election, Free Word asked: can young people be trusted with the vote?

Audio recording:



Mita Desai is a social policy graduate, who currently helps develop the curriculum for the NCS [National Citizen Service] with The Challenge. She is also the chair of the BYC [British Youth Council] and was previously an ambassador for Britain in the 2009 European Youth Exchange programme, a delegate at the 2010 World AIDS Conference, a representative of Birmingham University in multiple debating tournaments, responsible for the management of a camp for disadvantaged young people in New York and, since 2012,has been an elected member of the BYC board of trustees. Additionally, Mita has won several awards for her work, in 2013 she won the Employee of the Year award within her university institute and received the Outstanding Contribution award for her involvement with charities such as PASS, NCS, DebateMate and Envision.

Rose Dowling leads the SHM Foundation’s work on learning & citizenship in the UK. The portfolio of projects she leads for the Foundation aims to activate young people as citizens, political contributors and future leaders. And, she has worked within a range of fields, including education, policing and crime, and democracy, while trying to further these aims. Before her time at the SHM Foundation, Rose pioneered work with young people as leaders of educational change, setting up the influential Learner Forum for Edge (a foundation that aims to raise the status of practical and vocational learning) and developing national consultation groups for the Learning and Skills Council. She has carried out evaluation and consultancy for a wide range of public, private and voluntary organisations, including the Electoral Commission, End Child Poverty (a coalition of children’s voluntary-sector organisations), the National Youth Orchestra, the Equality and Diversity forum, the General Medical Council, and the Commission for Racial Equality. She has also worked as a parliamentary researcher at the Human Rights Act Research Unit.

Rachel Long is a poet, who was short listed for Young Poet Laureate for London in 2014. She has read at events at Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park and The Royal Festival Hall and her poetry has been anthologised by The Emma Press and featured in Abridged magazine. Rachel is a proud member of the Burn After Reading poetry collective and is currently studying an MA in creative and life writing at Goldsmiths, University of London.

Rania Ramli is 16 years old and currently a year 11 pupil. Politics and engaging more young people in democracy is what she is most passionate about and something that she is actively involved with through her work as the vice-chair of Bite the Ballot‘s youth advisory board. She is also a youth councillor on Newham Borough Youth Council and a youth officer for her local branch of the Labour party.

Emily Thornberry is the MP for Free Word Centre’s home constituency of Islington South & Finsbury, a position she has held since 2005. She represents the constituency as a member of the Labour Party, who have declared that lowering the voting age to 16 will be one of the cornerstones of their plan for constitutional reform. Emily also currently holds the party internal role of Shadow Attorney General, meaning she advises the Labour leadership on legal matters.

Alisha Wright is 17 years old and currently in her final year at secondary school, having been elected to the role of head girl at Douglas Academy in Milngavie. This is a role, which she very much enjoys, as it gives her the opportunity to represent her whole school. She is a keen debater and public speaker and has represented her school in many local, national and international competitions. This sparked her interest in politics, which was further enhanced during the course of the recent referendum on Scottish Independence, which served to cement her political interests. Next year, she hopes to study law at university and pursue a career in this field.