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A Magazine for Sheffield

Why are young people so alienated from politics?

At Festival of Debate, young people got together to discuss the issues they are facing, including under-representation in politics. 

A hand-painted banner that reads Sheffield students won't take this shit in red with a red fist.

Sheffield students won't take this shit

The future for many is plagued with uncertainty, especially for young people. With rent skyrocketing, an aggressive job market and continuing austerity measures it can be hard to remain optimistic about the future and politics.

For many young people, their hopes of climbing the property ladder, finding a well-paid job, and living comfortably seem like a dream. The opportunities available in previous years have been stripped away, which can make the future seem bleak whilst alienating young people from politics.

With Sheffield local elections fast approaching, this was a topic of discussion at the Festival of Debate in the event Rage Against the Machine: Young People & Political Power, which was hosted by Sheffield Futures’ Young Advisors and consisted of panellists Danielle Spencer, Zac Larkham, Maleiki Haybe and Django Perks.

Zac Larkham, journalist, and student activist said:

I think it's pretty rough being a young person right now and I think we are incredibly alienated from politics, which is where the apathy comes from. It is strange because we know more than ever. We are plugged into whatever is going on social media yet we are watching our political system fail us.

The system is not meeting the challenges we need it to meet at the moment, nothing is happening with climate change, nothing is happening with housing or rent or low pay or any problems that young people are facing.

When considering what could be the root cause of political apathy, alienation is an obvious answer. The Conservatives have been in government for nearly 13 years and rely on the silver vote to stay in power, who tend to want completely different things to young people.

This tension, paired with Tory trickledown economics, results in little change to what it is that young people need and want in politics now.

Zac added:

There is a political divide between generations. We have got young people who do not have assets and they don't have any of the things older people do. Instead we have tuition debt, really high rent and really low wages. Yet old people are running everything and young voices are not being heard.

We are not going to be given any of the things we want as young people, we are not going to be given the radical change that we need to change society.

Under-representation in politics is also a factor in political apathy. According to statistics from the Commons library, the average age of an MP from 1979 to 2019 was 50.

With little to no representation in parliament, young people feel not only like they are not being heard, but are asking how the can government even understand the issues young people face.

A woman with her face covered holds a hand-painted sign that says Our bodies our streets.

Our bodies our streets

Ehimetalor Akhere Unuabona

This could be a contributory factor in the rise of activism we have seen in the last few years.

Orb Media research shows that: “According to the data, adults younger than 40 are between 9 and 17 percent more likely to prefer informal political activity than those older than 40.

“There is a significant increase from the early 2000s, when the younger group was only 3 percent more likely to protest.”

Danielle Spencer, who has spent 22 years working for South Yorkshire Police, said:

Young people need to be educated on their human rights so they can protest and enable that feeling of confidence and reduce political apathy that is being experienced at the moment.

They also need a platform where they can be heard and they can tell stakeholders what it is they actually want.

Whilst young people can get involved in collective activism groups and use voting to communicate their concerns, the extent to which this will create change is unknown.

Real change needs to come from the government itself, where young people should be able to see representation and feel like their concerns are valued in the world of politics.

Django Perks, a member of the Sheffield Youth Cabinet, said:

Politicians need to stop using young people just to say 'we have spoken to young people and this is what we are going to do for them' and then get into power and do absolutely nothing.

I believe that South Yorkshire can be a role model to all the other regions out there, Sheffield in particular.

If we can get the Council to implement changes that allow young people's voices to be heard, we can influence other cities and regions, because believe me every city and region are competing to be the best.

Whether you are a young person or not, we can all sympathise with the issues they face and benefit from what they are asking for.

Representation and being listened to are things everyone should be striving for to build an equal and better democracy.

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