Apathy in the UK: mobilising the youth vote in Britain

Apathy in the UK: mobilising the youth vote in Britain
By Valérie Gauriat
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As the UK 2015 election approaches Euronews meets the youth of Britain to discuss the current struggles of students, whether or not they feel they are being represented and how their votes will count.

“I’m 21, I’m a student and I’m a sex worker,” says ‘Misha’, as this social science student has dubbed her working name.

For Misha, working as an escort and in striptease and cyber sex is preferable to poor paying jobs with binding timetables.

“I think it’s really flexible with my university and the hours I keep. Also I find that it actually pays a lot better than if I was working at McDonald’s.”

As many as one in 20 British students work in the sex industry, according to a recent survey. For many, it’s a good way to cope with the high costs they are faced with.

“I come from a working-class background, and with that regard, I don’t get a lot of help from my family. So I found it hard to live in London especially with how high the rents are. As a student, my loan, I get 9,000 pounds to live in London a year. And it’s really not enough. The money that I make doing sex work has definitely been helpful.”

The young woman can earn in a week enough to cover her monthly rent and living expenses.

In the UK, students leaving university average 60,000 euros in debt.

“I’d like to pay off the loan as soon as I could, so I’ll probably continue even after I stop studying, until I’m completely out of debt.”

On another day we will come across Misha again, among protesters who have come to support the Occupy movement launched this year in several British universities.

They oppose what they consider to be the economical drift in the British university system, and demand the scrapping of prohibitive tuition fees.

This is a central theme in the 2015 election campaign.

Student Benjamin Tippett is among those who occupy one of Britain’s most prestigious institutions, the London School of Economics or LSE.

Among the occupiers’ demands are free and open university, the end of precarious contracts for employees and divestment from firms detrimental to the environment or involved in the war industry.

“LSE has become the epitomy of the neoliberal institution,” states Benjamin. “What that really means is there’s been radically transformative structural change to the UK higher education system. Fees have tripled. Massive cuts have happened. Universities are going to the capital markets to fund, they’re using that to build nice, new buildings. Students are becoming commodities that are used for profits for the university.

…We’re trying to basically provide a crack within that system. So it’s about students bringing the politics back to the education and bringing students back into the political world.”

Recent years have not seen the divide between British youth and politicians decrease.

From the City to the more popular areas of London, all those we meet share the feeling of having been neglected.

“As a young person, other than the help to buy houses, that’s the only thing I really follow, and the only thing I really feel they grab out to us young people. They seem to be people a lot older than me so I don’t feel they really target the younger groups,” says one twenty-something.

Another comments, “There’s no one that’s inspiring me, there’s no one speaking for artists out there or the young people really. It’s all old people fighting over money and stuff like that really. It doesn’t interest me at all!”

“For me it’s less about whether I feel that they’re catering to me and my generation and more about I just don’t really believe them! No matter what they say and who they’re saying it for,” continues an interviewee.

Higher on average than in the rest of Europe, the abstention rate of British youth does not equate to unanimity on the street.

“I’m still unsure about which side I’d actually would want to vote for, but yeah it’s obviously important,” says a young man in the City.

“Why?” we ask.

“It sets policy for the next four years, it affects everyone’s earnings, the economy of the UK, people’s standard of living…so yeah, of course it’s important”

Adds one girl, “I think they’re all kind of saying the same thing but if you don’t vote then you can’t moan, when someone you don’t want goes into government.”

“Yeah,” continues her male friend, “it’s about voting to keep people out rather than to put people in who you want to see in. That’s definitely why I think why I’m voting. Not because I fully support people I’m voting for, it’s more that I fully distrust the people I’m voting against.”

Bite The Ballot is on a mission to empower young voters. This non-profit organisation campaigns to raise awareness in schools, universities and youth centers, to encourage youth to go to the polls.

The under 25 represent more than 10 percent of the electorate, and could swing the election’s outcome.

Says Sara Ghaffari, Grassroots Coordinator at Bite The Ballot, “Only a quarter of young people in the UK eligible voters actually voted in the 2010 general election. During these past 5 years we’ve seen a lot of policies being aimed at at the older generations, and lots of policies which are beneficial to young people have been moved to the side or scrapped. We encourage young people to vote in the hope that politicians will actually realise that young people’s votes are worth winning, and that young people are active, and interested, and demanding more, really.”

We followed a team of concerned youth to a meeting they hosted in a downtown cafe, where forty were invited to debate over politics, and what mattered to them.

Debt, job insecurity, unemployment, housing, environment and discrimination were all part of the discussions.

If this generation feels disconnected from the political class, it might be tempted to choose “none of the above”, suggested one of the co-organizers. Protesting is also a way to exist.

States Massai Lawrence of Reluctantly Brave, “I see that one of the biggest focuses to get young people through the door is spoiling the ballot. Because to me I feel we live in a generation of trolls. Everyone hates trolls, everyone loves trolls, not to say it should be a fun thing to spoil your ballot, but at least it’s an incentive to at least take part, rather than ignore it. And it’s just that form of defiance as well. Young people like to have the last word, and I think that’s where the spoiling the ballot comes in, because you just say, ‘No I don’t feel represented.’ And that’s my own opinion. People are telling me to vote, I’m seeing advertisements to vote everywhere, but I don’t actually feel represented. So I’m going to spoil it!”

While many feel alienated from the current political class, those we met refute the apathy they are often accused of and share a thirst for change.

This is what drives Jonathan Mitchell, founder of Brothers We Stand.

After multiple odd jobs post-graduation, and not succeeding to find work suited to his degree, he started an online menswear retail brand with a vision: that the clothes are sustainable and ethically made.

While displaying his clothing line he says, “These are made of plastic bottles, these sweatshirts. You can take a plastic bottle and you can melt it down and you get little chips. They’re just the kind of product that we want. It’s a great product and it’s made in a more sustainable way. And I think this is the future of business really.”

Jonathan started Brothers We Stand from scratch. He lives at his parents’ home, where he stores the collections sent directly by designers and he develops his ideas and works from a co-working space.

The beginning was not easy, but with the help of a foundation, and a lot of enthusiasm, his start-up is growing momentum.

As for politics, Jonathan will vote he says, but at 25, what he believes above all is in his generation’s creativity, through which another world may be possible.

“Brothers We Stand is a way that I can in my own small way have an impact on the world. It’s not directly related to politics, but it’s my way that I can use my skills. It’s good to be involved in politics and having our say, but also we can do things apart from them, we don’t have to wait for them to do things we want to happen. Each in our little way we can make changes to places. We’ve just got to go for it really. We can make things happen.”

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