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With the General Election approaching, UK Youth Commissioner, Hannah Kentish talks about how we engage more young people within the world of politics… 

Encouraging engagement

On 7 May millions of people will make their way to the ballot box to decide on who represents them in Parliament for the next five years.

Leading up to this, I was lucky enough to run a session with a Scout Troop in East Sussex recently using Rock Enrol, a resource we recently developed with the Cabinet Office to encourage engagement around the world of politics and the forthcoming General Election. 

It was a really fun and engaging night, using games and activities to share thoughts and opinions, helping the Scouts to understand the kind of issues that might be discussed in Scouting or by MPs in the Houses of Parliament. I was blown away both by the level of knowledge the young people had and their enthusiasm when debating the issues they cared about.

When I joined Scouts at the age of 10, I certainly didn’t know half of the stuff these guys were talking about! It really demonstrated that if you ask young people the right questions in a stimulating and exciting way, you discover that we have a lot to share and talk about.

Asking the right questions

The biggest problem we face both in Scouting and in the wider running of the UK is that we aren’t asking the right questions or giving the right space for young people to shape society around them. Our Vision for 2018 involves creating active citizens so this is an issue we have to face head on as a Movement.

Although the majority of our members are under the age of 18, it’s still really important to discuss registering to vote, engaging with local decision makers and playing an active role in delivering the future we want to see. 

In the 2010 General Election, of the young people aged 18-25 who were eligible, only 54% registered to vote, and of these, just 44% actually voted. That’s less than a quarter of young people voting.

On the other hand, 75% of people aged 65+ exercised their right to vote. There would be nothing worse than setting old against young, but from reducing funding in youth services to trebling tuition fees, rising youth unemployment to ending Education Maintenance Allowance in England, young people have a lot to be concerned about when it comes to making their voices heard.

But if politicians know that only about 25% of us are going to vote, they aren’t going to offer policy changes which impact on the issues we feel passionately about.

Making a positive impact

But why talk about democracy with young people? A lot of people get nervous when we talk about politics within Scouting. We’re not the British Youth Council or UK Youth Parliament, and we shouldn't try to be. After all, Scouting’s Policy, Organisation and Rules (POR) are quite clear that we would never endorse any one candidate or party. 

However, engaging young people in the General Election within our own POR is a part of our mission to empower young people to make a positive contribution to society. This includes creating active citizens and encouraging young people to become more aware of major social issues, plus helping young people understand the processes of decision-making by organisations and by government.

But most importantly, the reason we should all encourage young people to be engaged with politics is because young people care. Traditional ‘politics’ isn’t always an engaging topic for us but that's not due to a lack of passion we have for the society around us – and I’ve seen this passion first hand, locally and nationally. Perhaps it’s the political world that is doing an injustice to young people across the UK by not doing enough to stimulate interest and engage us.

For now, things like the General Election is the format through which we can impact on the future of our society. So, let’s make sure that through Scouts, we encourage young people to make their voices heard and vote.

If you’re looking for help to engage young people in the upcoming General Election, check out the Rock Enrol! resource packs.

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