Young people feel let down by successive governments and the voting age should be lowered to ensure their views are heard, according to a student leader.
Toni Pearce, the new president of the National Union of Students (NUS), suggested that 16- and 17-year-olds should be given a say in how the country is run.
She said it is “matter of principle” that if 16-year-olds are old enough to pay tax then they are old enough to help decide how that money should be spent.
But she added that lowering the voting age must go hand in hand with more political and citizenship education.
Ms Pearce is the first NUS president not to have been to university. Instead, she studied at Cornwall College before becoming involved with the student union movement.
Between 2009 and 2011, she was president of the Cornwall College Students’ Union before serving for two terms as the NUS vice-president for further education.
Ms Pearce said she intended to campaign for a “new deal” for young people, including making it easier for students to pursue alternative education and training to university, creating and investing in new jobs and encouraging youngsters to become involved in their local communities.
“I think there’s a real feeling of being let down by the government, and not actually by a specific government, by years’ worth of governments who haven’t created policies that have supported young people to be in education, who haven’t incentivised the industry to employ young people or to employ graduates or to take on apprentices.”
Young people notice that there has been an increase in unemployment in areas outside London and the south east, Ms Pearce said, adding that they are the first generation to earn less than their parents and are unlikely to retire until they are will into their seventies.
Lowering the voting age should make the Government listen to young people more, she said, “but it needs to go hand in hand with political education”.
“Something that’s really lacking in schools is citizenship and political education.
“Talking to people about the value of being involved and getting involved in politics – and politics with a small ‘p’ – and understanding how decisions are made and how you can influence them, is really important.”