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Archive for August, 2011

At What Age Is Old Enough To Vote – How About Sweet 16?

August 26, 2011 1 comment

The last hundred or so years, has witnessed disfranchised groups in various forms demanding the right to vote, whether it be the common man, Women or the lowering the age of both sexes to 18, but now there is a strong call to lower it again to 16. The pro Votes@16 campaigners seem to have the stronger debate with many facts and figures in comparison with those against who do not have a full argument against which leads to believe they fear a younger age range having the ability to vote.

The fact, that young people can be arrested, and deemed old enough to understand the consequences of their actions at the age of 10. At 16, a young person becomes responsible and to decide over their own health, leave school and decide on the route they take whether it is towards further and higher education, Apprenticeships or full time employment. Other things at 16, include Starting a family, Join and train in the Army and Living estranged from parents. Young people are taxed at the age of 16, thus one of the pro arguments claim “NO TAXATION WITHOUT REPRESENTATION” recalling the old American chant regarding the time they wanted representation due to paying taxes to the crown.

There are over 1.5 million 16 and 17 year olds in the UK. These young people are knowledgeable and passionate about the world in which they live, and are highly capable of engaging in the democratic system as much as any other citizen.  Other areas of the UK have already changed the voting age and lowered it to 16, these areas are Isle of Man, Jersey and Guernsey. It seen in various locations across Europe, Asia and South America, and for various different level of government they can vote for at 16, thus it wouldn’t be a huge difference if the UK were to do the same even if it was just the local and regional elections. In their last study, the Electoral commission found that 72% of young people within that age group were in support of the age being lowered.

Youth Organisations across the UK are in support of Votes@16 and have been for many years, which include BYC, UK Youth Parliament, Funky Dragon, Scottish Youth Parliament and a vast number of youth fora / Councils up and down the land. Political bodies such as the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly , and a vast number of political parties which include Labour, Plaid and the Liberal Democrats to name but a few. Many political parties start their membership from 15 which enables them to vote in internal ballots, so why are they not capable enough of doing the same for their party in elections? Due to the nature of UK politics, the devolved areas are not responsible for lowering the age to vote within their region, that right/power is still reserved to central government.

An EDM (Early Day Motion) has been put forward by Stephen Williams, and will be heard once sufficient time and support has been acquired for it. The fact that there is a fairly new parliament,  and many younger members’ means that there could possibility be more support to change the voting age from 18 to 16. A previous EDM brought forward by Julie Morgan, formerly Cardiff North MP had felt that it was an important motion to bring forward and to rectify the injustice and disenfranchisement of potential younger voters.

Those arguing against lowering the voting age, argue that it will be costly to attempt to raise young people’s interest, and strongly believe that it would be a huge drain and a waste of taxpayers’ money , which could be better used  locally or nationally to provide better services for all .  Another argument concerning votes for 16 year olds is that young people of that age, would only focus around one issue e.g. environmental issues or the ongoing conflict in Iraq. At that age they are deemed to lack maturity and experience, and there are even moves for the vote to be raised to 21 rather than dropped to 16.

In law, a person may be classed as a full adult at 18, the same age supported by the UNCRC (United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child 1989) of when a child stops being a child. At this age they may sign their own parental consent forms so therefore having more of an idea, of making important decisions themselves as they are more mature. However a young person may join the army but not in frontline situations, or get married (with parental consent) at the age of 16. Yet this is contradicted by the fact individuals can have a family of their own if they wish from the age of 16. So the law provides a grey area as, the 16/17 year old does not have full responsibility for themselves, but yet retain full responsibility over their own child. The concept of “children should be seen and not heard” unfortunately remains.

Most Statistics from the various media indicate that a small number of 18-24 olds actually vote at present , so why on earth should the voting age be lowered to 16? However this is rebutted by previous consultations in where clear majorities indicate that they would vote, if the age were lowered. While those against would question the consultations and state there would be a definitive difference to those who say they  will and those who actually do vote. The following quote is used by them to support their argument.“Actions speak louder than words”.

Most believe with any decrease of age to vote must they be a better focus be put onto the awareness and educational aspects behind the vote, than of that present. Education is a key point that must be addressed, as at the current time it is not interesting enough due to the way it is taught. More times than not, citizenship or  PSE lessons are “doss” subjects as teachers are not interested or do not understand the system enough to relay such information to their students or utilise books /small questionnaires, as a way to make it easier for them. Politics as a whole is energetic and provides confidence and ambition; it can provide many interesting and enjoyable debates to be had by students. This in turn could act as a eye opener to the real world. Politics is better taught as a practical subject, it can provide great experience to those that run or support a candidate in a political campaign, whether within their school or local area.

The arguments against do not have a strong enough argument, compared to those in support of lowering the voting age. They are mostly of an older generation, more so those that have not witnessed the many youth elections across the country, with some having a turnout higher than in actual local or national elections. Thus as younger people enter politics, the possibility of better connecting with young people can become a norm, the better a reality it will be to successfully lower the voting age. Education must be improved in how it is taught to engage and better the citizen overall. The law needs to reconsider the age of responsibility should be lowered to 16 when the young people of that age already have responsibility over most of their lives, they should be able to consent to themselves to attend/ participate in whatever they so wish.

If you would like to sign the petition, please click on the following link and follow the instructions.

http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/28

If you would  also like to publicly state you agree for votes at 16 please do via the votes at 16 coalition website http://www.votesat16.org/our-supporters/

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Prison – A Smokescreen For Society’s Failings?


The recent riots across the UK has seen many individuals go through the judicial system, but is the system currently in use fair and finally -is the punishment laid out proportionate to the crime?

The current Conservative led UK Government feels the need to promote heavy sentencing for those caught participating in any of the riots, whether looting, causing damage or both. MPs that committed fraud in the expense scandal last year, took thousands from the tax payer, were given around four months in prison, yet many who partook in the riots had not taken as much in values worth, but they face the same time as those MPs imprisoned, in comparison with crimes  and their sentencing comparison everyone can see what a joke the justice system is at the current time. Here are  just a few examples of the many ludicrous sentences and their comparisons

  • 0-5 months-Individual handling stolen goods v Known celebrity crashing his car while on cannabis
  • 5-12 months-Individual stealing gum V  person claming £11,000 of dead mum’s pension
  • 1-2 years- Individual attempting to steal cigarettes V person attempting to groom young girl online
  • 4 years – 2 lads “inciting violence “ on social networks V Person involved in Heroin dealer and part played in £10 million operations.

– so is this a fair justice system? Simple answer NO

Is our justice system fair and suitable  for it’s needs or an easy answer avoiding blame  from themselves and covering up the real reasons that led up to the riots.  It’s both exceedingly expensive to tax payers and very much a waste of time for the courts and prisons etc in which the offender may potentially learn more effectively via other means. It also acts as a quick release for government where anger is directed away from them and towards the “thugs”.

The fact that the Police and Government had asked parents in England- did they know where their children were? Well simple answer is no, but the other factor some parents feel is what authority they have any more as they fear being done for breaking human rights laws for smacking them or punishing them. The point is that many parents of those participating have more than one job to keep them and their family above the breadline thus of course would not be able to watch over their children as they are attempting to provide for them.

Prison as a concept, is normally for those who it is of public interest to be sent away from normal law abiding society, and whereby their crime is deemed highly unacceptable to society at large while continuing freedom may cause further harm. This in context should mean murderers, rapists, serious and organised criminals- including fraud to be locked in prison/ young person’s institute. However prisons should not be used as quick releases for government and should not be heavy weighted to public opinion of the day, no matter the crime or person each are and should be equal in the eyes of the law. This is not normally the case as white collars are normally given a slap on the wrist while those “social degenerates/undesirables” are locked away. Thus prison should be deemed to be the very last option once all others are exhausted, but in the current day, it is seen as the easiest and only option in most circumstances which makes the situation worse rather than better to the individual and consequently to society.

The sense of belonging is one every person needs to feel in one capacity or another, if society cannot provide such, the individual attempts to find a sense of identity elsewhere where they feel safe and a part of. More times than not, this means gangs and/or prison, where the revolving door syndrome kicks in, and where rehabilitation becomes useless.  Major cuts /total withdrawal of funding has lead to a worsening of the situation as there is nothing for this Young People to do, no Provision, Education right for them or jobs for them to enter in order to better themselves.

Socially disadvantaged areas normally found to see much more drug use and dealing than that in more affluent areas of towns or cities. Gangs are normally centred on the supply of drugs and where rival gangs aim to supply can and sometimes lead to them fighting to the death to protect and defend “their territory”. When those caught with drugs face prison, they also attend drug awareness sessions, being highly useless as they stand, as by then they had already experienced much of what the drugs do. What they really need on the other hand is the right support and facilities to get away from drugs to give them a start to find a better footing rather than condemning them at first sight.

The current UK Government is blatantly out of tune with the real issues affecting the people, they seem to avoid answering what the underlying problems are and how they may be actioned upon. Many young people have nothing to aspire too yet faced with a heavily materialised society, if they can not get the items they so desire through legitimate means they look to looting and/ or organised crime in order to keep up with the trends.

Rehabilitation as it stands does not work or benefit the individual or society as it fails in what it sets out to do, it fails the young people and adults  that go through it and cannot provide a great restart  for the individual so  they may find their feet gain. The lack of employed work is a major issue as many workplaces refuse to accept those with a criminal record. Yet the Prime minister’s own aid and close friend ,Coulson, was found to be at the centre of the phone hacking scandal. The Prime minister argued in support of his close friend “I believe he deserved a second chance” but don’t these people being failed by David Cameron and his government, deserve one?

David Cameron and his ministers have stated that they will aim to rid individuals caught participating in the riots of their home and any other state benefits they receive. What planet are they on? Do they not realise that this only perpetuates the matter further? Obviously not as they are too busy attempting to impress the general public with the heavy veneer that they are being strong in tackling crime. It is scary to think that Prince Charles understands the people more than the Government which is highly embarrassing on their part.

Unless the government faces up and addresses how they will deal with the underlining issues, this will only be the start of the riots. With more cuts planned over the years to come the situation looks bleak and where the Government needs to think again, strongly, in what effect their cuts will affect communities? Rather than moving the blame away from them and believing it is ok to continue with the savage cuts. The Justice system needs a serious rethink of it aims, how it works and how it goes about accomplishing it. With such a contentious issue will government ever address it or be afraid of what some voters may feel or perceive towards it, or continue to affect many individuals and allowing the revolving door policy to continue.

Technology – A force for good or bad?


Technology continues to improve day on day, and becomes cheaper within the same time. But is it a force for good or bad?

Recent riots in the UK have shocked and disgusted politicians, the police and the wider public, more so in terms of how technology is increasingly changing how crime is organised and managed. Rioters were able to avoid the police in blockades and had illustrated the fact that they were in control of the streets through the means of Facebook, Twitter and other networking sites. The police seemingly had no capability to address the fast moving problem of the vast number of locations planned for looting. By the time they had organised themselves, it was way too late as they had to try and continue to seize any opportunity to lockdown city centres. Thus the point remains that the police need to catch up on how they monitor social networking. The other factor to ask our leaders, is the fact that state institutions are failing to keep up with the know how on using the various technologies, and in doing do are not using it their advantage. The other issue facing governments is that the internet is hard to regulate, as it is mainly open and governments face barriers due to jurisdiction when courts/government request information etc. from the various online companies. They also aim to block an area’s communication if it is deemed that it is being used to co-ordinate a riot or generally inciting violence. The Downside to this is there will always be ways around any blockage; just ask most high school teenagers who still get on banned sites. A new change being brought in by the UK Police in conjunction with social networking sites is to provide paper copies of any incriminating comments left by an individual.

Needless to the say technology has many benefits, it allows all to communicate via handheld gadgets or online through social networking sites. The use for communication can thus be used to assist in both organising crime and maintaining large scale acts. It can also be used for quick effective goodness in people for either charity or community functions, as seen by the large turnout out in the streets of London, Birmingham, Manchester and Liverpool to assist in the mass clean-up after the mess left without care by the rioters.The recent riots have highly illustrated the speed in which those participating in riots can organise and maintain themselves. The capability of fast communication alongside live media coverage has assisted rioters in mocking the police and creating a laughing stock of their policing strategies. However since the riots, it seems the state institutions including the police are only now starting to get used to using social networking sites to better their work in finding culprits.The police have even been aided by some rioters themselves who had helped police track them down, this done by happily boasting via pictures or homemade videos; proudly showing off their loot to everyone they have within their friendship network and more. There are now many calls for the statute books to be adapted and be exercised in the fight against those who incite violence in written terms on websites. The government has also mentioned about new powers over social networking to be granted to the police forces, however it is not known what they will be as yet. Speculated measures include a temporary blackout of the use of social networking amongst others, but as said it is mere speculation at this time.

The power of technology cannot be undermined where it is possible to bring down governments as seen a short time ago in the Middle East. Cadbury’s had even felt the power in which a magnitude of likes had forced Cadbury to bring back a particular bar it had taken of the shelves years prior. It can then be utilised as a fierce rival tool by the public at large as well as by local communities, which can even include neighbours or families of rioters. They are able to widely condemn and vent their anger focusing on the behaviour of the hooligans who participated in the riots.

Meet the Panel – BYC Convention Cardiff (4th August 2011)


The panel consisted of the following:

Andrew RT Davies AM (leader of the Welsh Conservative Party)

Jenny Rathbone  AM (Labour, known champion for children)

Jenny Willott MP (Liberal Democrats)

[will add once I confirm name](Plaid)

The session started with a statement condemning the recent attacks in Norway, followed by a minute silence observed by all.

Votes@16

Votes at 16 was the first issue with majority of the young people attending showing support for the campaign.  The fact that there is a new parliament means that there is a possibility with new members being in support for changing the voting age from 18 to 16.

The Various devolved bodies have already supported motions in support of lowering the age, however the power remains with Westminster.  The Conservative representative had shown that he was strongly opposed to lowering the age as he felt that 16 was too young.

When young people confronted him on this point, and the fact at the age of 16 an individual can choose their next step, whether it be staying in education, Apprenticeships or full time employment on top of gaining responsibility over their own health provision.  The point mentioned by one (me) was that his party was afraid of young people due to the current cuts/ higher charges/ lack of job opportunities and that he would not support it in the fear of retribution by the younger voters.

He replied with the fact that if young people from the age of 15 were part of his party they could vote for their leader etc, thus the argument being contradictory as why should they have the power to vote within the party compared to in a actual election, are young people not using the same responsibility to do so in both?

Jenny Rathbone highlighted the well known saying “No taxation, without representation” ,it is true 16 years in full time employment by law pay tax, if they are forced to pay tax they should have the right to vote for the person they deem best  in how they the spend tax. Jenny also noted the fact that Young Labour (15-27) has supported a motion calling for the voting age to be lowered also.

The Plaid representative had stated he and his party were in full support of a potential change to the voting age. It has been a view the party has supported for many years and very much continue to do so.

Liberal Democrats (Jenny Willott) had stated the same as the previous two, the fact that her party had long supported the lowering of the voting age, the fact that young members from the age of 15 like the other parties on the panel are eligible to vote in all internal elections.

Youth Service Cuts

The question was raised why the Youth Service provisions across Wales were seeing deep cuts in their funding, leading to many provisions in local areas being stopped due to cost and youth service priorities.

An interesting point raised that the youth services across Wales, provide young people with informal education i.e. ASDAN etc to assist them in skills employers are looking for, they also provide provision in terms of NEET (not in Education, Employment or Training).

The discussion then quickly moved to government priorities, and yep you guessed it –what was left after the last government –YAWN-. The government is forced to make hard decisions on where it spends it’s allocated money and as many said young people were the victims and probable reason being they are too apathetic or not old enough to vote.

Children in Care


Last but not least, the issue of children in the care system in Wales was discussed and how unstable the system arguably is. It was strongly felt that young people need to feel respected and maintain dignity, which is arguably not provided in its current form.

Young People often experience continuous changes to the social worker assigned to them, which does not allow trust to build up in order to open to a worker more.  All the panellists had felt this was disgusting and that every young person in care deserved better and they the politicians were acting as parents in the literal sense being the ones who make decisions affecting them.  All admitted more needed to be done and panellists stated that they would bring the matter to the assembly/parties to discuss further.


Summary

Overall the panellists answered the questions laid out; however one came across not really take in or like young peoples’ views. Another seemed to enjoy taking the blame away from their party in order to change/curb the discussion.  The Vote@16 issue had been by far the biggest and most interesting debate/ heated discussion, as well as some of the young people making panellists bite their tongues. The day itself proved to be on a whole successful, the main points made were to be transmitted by panellists to their political body and party, in the hope that they in turn will be able to bring about change in the topic matters discussed.

Congratulations and huge thanks go out to the BYC guys for such a brilliantly organised event. I know you have inspired many who attended to be involved, not just locally or even nationally, but also on a European level as well as its neighbours.