Policy and Politics: Charities urge young to use their vote

Stephen Cook

A last-minute drive aims to get young people on the electoral register.

Charities are taking part in a last-minute push to encourage people who are least likely to take part in the political process to get themselves on the electoral register in time to vote in the coming general election.

If the election is called for 5 May, the cut-off for registration will be 11 March. Everyone over 18 who wants to vote will have to register with their local authority by then.

The Disability Rights Commission has produced a 'Right to Vote' pack designed to tell people with learning disabilities how to register and what to do at the polling station. It has also published a fact sheet for those who support voters with learning disabilities.

And the Foyer Federation has teamed up with the Electoral Commission to encourage people living in the UK's 130 foyers to get involved in politics.

Only 39 per cent of 18-25 year-olds voted at the last general election.

The federation has produced a colourful poster setting out why young people should take politics seriously and has collaborated with the commission over 'voter registration days'.

On one such day at the 200-bed foyer in Stratford, east London - the UK's largest foyer - 41 young people registered to vote in a three-hour session with an official from the commission.

"It's important that young people with troubled backgrounds are given the opportunity to participate in political debate, and this fits with our ethos of helping them become active and independent citizens," said Jane Slowey, federation chief executive.

The federation has also invited MPs to meet young people in the foyers, which are usually run by housing associations and provide accommodation linked to education and training opportunities for 16-25 year-olds with housing problems. The foyers look after 10,000 young people each year.

Junior minister Ben Bradshaw visited his local foyer in Exeter last week, and further visits have been arranged for MPs Julia Drown in Swindon, Frank Field in Birkenhead, Mark Todd in south Derbyshire, Tony Lloyd in Manchester, Christine Russell in Chester and Andy Love in Edmonton, north London.

"Young people can be portrayed in a very negative way by the media, and this is an opportunity to enable MPs to understand them better," said Slowey.

Residents of foyers are also being encouraged to take part in mock elections being organised by the Hansard Society and to give evidence to the POWER Commission, an inquiry into British democracy.

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