How local young people, politicians, and educators view youth political involvement in Croydon

By - Thursday 15th March, 2018

Youth voter turnout has been low in the last decade

Candidates for Croydon’s first Young Mayor stand with Mayor of Croydon, Councillor Toni Letts.
Photo author’s own.

In the last decade, London’s largest youth borough has seen low voter turnout amongst its youth population.

Youth voter turnout in Croydon mirrors a similar occurrence national elections have recently seen as well. According to the British Election Study’s 2015 daily rolling election campaign data, in England during the general election, out of the 917 respondents who were aged 18-25, 655 people said they had not voted by post while 247 said that they had. In the 2017 election, while it appeared there was a surge in youth voter turnout, there was no significant increase.

May’s election is not the only election in Croydon’s near future, as candidates seeking the Young Mayor title will find out the results on 15th March. With both elections approaching, I spoke with local youths, politicians, and educators about what issues Croydon’s youth have expressed interest in as well as what is being done to encourage youth to get involved in politics.

What young people are saying

Shaniqua Benjamin, a 25-year-old freelance writer and poet who runs a youth platform called Young People Insight, aimed at empowering the voices of young people, said that she tells the youths whom she works with that their voice is needed.

She said “I haven’t seen anyone talk about this election. I think it’s relatively low because [young people] feel politics isn’t for them without realising how much it genuinely affects them”.

Benjamin said issues the young people she works with care about include safety, mental health, employment, and education.

In the Young Mayor election, candidates are running campaigns around similar themes to those Benjamin mentioned. Other examples of campaign topics include increasing skills and opportunities for young people, reducing poverty, supporting young entrepreneurs, and regenerating young people’s futures for the better.

“I have the right to vote, so I’m going to use that”

Benjamin said that she always tells her students when an election is approaching.

“I’ll say to them, read up on who you vote for.” Benjamin said that she thinks that young voters can “be misinformed because they don’t know where to get information. I will go to [candidates’] websites and look up what they’re standing for”. She added that the information that she finds should be broken down so that it’s easier to understand. “Some of it is confusing to me. No matter how well you try it, you just don’t get it.”

Benjamin said that the main way she that stays informed is by reading. “It’s about looking at what interests you, and seeing how that is linked to politics”.

What local government is saying and doing

Councillor Tony Newman, Leader of the Council, said politics is not something that is discussed as widely as it could be in the classroom.

“Another strong voice that the young people will have is who eventually becomes the first Young Mayor for Croydon”

He added, “I’m not talking party politics here, I’m talking getting involved. Part of it is trying to find another way as well to get people energized about the difference politics can make”.

Newman said one way local politicians are encouraging young people to get involved in politics is through the Choose Your Future campaign.

“We had, back last summer in Croydon, the first ever Youth Congress, 400 people attended that.”

What schools are doing

Ann Monaghan, Vice Principal of Curriculum and Quality at Croydon College, said students at Croydon College are encouraged to run for positions within the school.

“People need to be aware and active”

Julie Percival, Croydon College Assistant Principal Academic Support, said the college also runs campaigns during elections, both national and local, to encourage students to register to vote. The campaigns feature computers to allow students to register on site. The school also has a Young Mayor candidate, and Percival said the Young Mayor election will be an opportunity to show students how campaigns work.

She said “he’ll be campaigning, and we’ll be sharing that with the rest of the students in the college, and then we’re going to be a poll station on the day”. She also added that the college is tying the Young Mayor election in with the local election.

Both Monaghan and Percival said citizenship engagement should be required.

“English is compulsory. Maths is compulsory. Something like this should be compulsory, as well”

Hans Svennevig, Head of Citizenship and Progression at Croydon College, said “students are engaging in [citizenship] for a practical purpose”, adding that it should be compulsory up to 18.

How to vote

More information on how to vote can be found here.

Holly Bernstein

Holly Bernstein

Holly Bernstein is a political reporter born and raised in Arizona. Back home she is a broadcast political reporter and presenter on Arizona PBS. She is in London chasing her dreams of covering politics around the world and believes in covering what matters anytime, anywhere.

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