Number of school leavers registered to vote 'plummets'

Teenagers from areas with large black and ethnic minority communities are least likely to be registered to vote, leaving their voices underrepresented in the upcoming General Election

Rachael Pells
Education Correspondent
Monday 15 May 2017 11:45 BST
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Voters must be signed up by 22 May to take part in the election
Voters must be signed up by 22 May to take part in the election

Political parties need to do more to engage with young people and encourage them to vote, or risk losing a generation of supporters, campaigners have urged, as the time left for voter registration narrows.

According to the Electoral Reform Society (ERS), young people in the UK face a “voter registration time bomb”, with the number of school leavers registered to vote dropping by more than a quarter over the past three years.

The figures cover the time from when Individual Electoral Registration (IER) was introduced in 2014 – which saw a shift from a single person, usually a parent or lead tenant, registering everyone in the household on their behalf, to each voter having to register individually.

Universities are also no longer able to register student residents automatically – a factor believed to have contributed to the loss of thousands of voters.

The ERS, which campaigns on access to democracy, said while the move to IER had improved the accuracy of the register, it has also led to a “significant fall” in the number of young people on the electoral roll.

Of the nations which introduced IER in 2014, Scotland has seen the biggest drop in the number of “attainers” (16 and 17 year olds on the register), at 35 per cent, followed by Wales (27 per cent) and England (25 per cent).

In Northern Ireland, where the IER system has been in place since 2002, the number of those signed up to vote has fallen by half.

Latest analysis shows the number of attainers registered in Westmorland and Lonsdale, the constituency held by the leader of the Liberal Democrats, Tim Farron, to have dropped by three quarters (75 per cent) over three years.

Other areas to experience a dramatic fall in numbers included Hackney South and Shoreditch, held by Labour MP Meg Hillier, and Conservative MP Anne-Marie Trevelyan’s Berwick-upon-Tweed constituency.

Many of the areas that have seen the biggest drop have large black and minority ethnic communities, such as the Bethnal Green and Bow constituency in London.

This suggests school leavers from already marginalised groups have not re-registered since their parents or guardians stopped signing them up on their behalf, the ERS warned, and many of those people will have turned 18 by 8 June.

Katie Ghose, Chief Executive of the Electoral Reform Society, said: “These findings should sound the alarm to young people across the country that they need to register to vote if they want to have their say on 8 June.

“There is a real risk that this election could be one where the registration time bomb goes off – leaving hundreds of thousands without a voice. The collapse in the number of 16 and 17 year olds on the register in 2016 is a warning sign to anyone who cares about political engagement and young people’s stake in our democracy.

With just one week left for individuals to register in time for the upcoming General Election, campaign groups have called for MPs to take responsibility in what they hope to be the “biggest ever push” to register young people who may have fallen off the electoral role.

“All the evidence shows that voting is habitual,” said Ms Ghose, “if you start young, you’ll vote for life. Today’s findings suggest not enough is being done to ensure Britain’s young people are on the electoral roll.”

Nearly seven million people are either not on the electoral roll or are incorrectly registered, the group leader said. The ERS has called for universities’ powers to sign up their students to be reinstated, as well as moves towards an automatic registration system.

“Whether it’s improving citizenship education, or trialling same-day registration, there is plenty that can be done to revitalise our democratic processes,” said Ms Ghose.

“Whatever the case, we need action – or we risk losing a whole generation of voters.”

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