At what age do you think people should be able to vote in a general election? In the UK the voting age is currently 18, and has been for a very long time. However, the Labour Party have decided that they will reduce the voting age to 16 if they win the next General Election, which will probably be in a year or so’s time. Doing so would enfranchise – which is what we call giving people the vote – 1.5 million British teenagers, including some of you, of course.
Some facts. The age of criminal responsibility in the UK is 10, except for Scotland where it is 12. The age of sexual consent is 16, when you can also buy a pet. You can join the armed forces at 16, but need parental consent until 18.
A driver’s licence for a car can be obtained at 17, mostly, however, the legal age of maturity is held to be 18. You must be over 18 to buy alcohol, cigarettes, knives, fireworks, air weapons, National Lottery tickets, solvents or sunbeds. In February this year, the legal age for marriage was raised from 16 to 18.
Now the Labour Party claim that this policy is merely a natural development from the fact that at 16, many young people are paying taxes, working and, as they put it, “engaging in all parts of society”, although young people in England must continue with part-time work and training or full-time education until they are 18. Both the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Children Act define someone under the age of 18 as a child.
More cynical observers may suggest that the Labour Party’s decision is simply a cynical ploy to gain more votes, because young people are statistically much more likely to vote Labour than older people. Personally I’m not sure that at the age of 16 I was sufficiently mature to be entrusted with the vote, but I’ll let you make up your own minds. The irony is, of course, that it will be people of 18 and over at the election who will deciding whether or not this happens.