Young people have dropped off the electoral register in their masses. Photo: Getty
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Over 200,000 young people have fallen off the electoral register: time to get them back

It's National Voter Registration Day today and time for the young people hit by the system changes to sign up.

If you’re a parent or grandparent of someone who recently turned 18, or is just about to, you’ll want them to have their say in the future of the country.

Today, make sure they get their right to vote.

Today is National Voter Registration Day, pioneered by the brilliant Bite the Ballot. When the Tories are persistently attacking young people but the number of 18-year-olds registered to vote has almost halved, it’s time to take action.

Young people have dropped off the electoral register in their masses – not by choice, but because the rules have changed. New rules mean parents can’t register their children to vote, while universities and colleges can’t register students in halls of residence. In just one year, over 200,000 young people have disappeared from the electoral register.

That’s a terrifying number. It’s a city the size of Southampton, all left without a vote.

It’s not just 18-year-olds, either. The Electoral Commission says three in 10 people under 25 are missing from the electoral register. Their voices won’t be heard, whatever they have to say.

Often, the way politicians try to get young people involved in politics is to talk about "youth issues". Today, I want to try something different.

In my work as shadow minister for care and older people, I meet lots of young people who really worry about their grandparents or aunts and uncles, and who go out of their way to help out. Just as older people are concerned about younger family members getting a good education, finding a home and getting a decent job, young people want to know that their relatives are being well looked after if they’re sick or frail – be that in their own homes, in a care home or in hospital.

I know many young people do their best to help out with their elderly relatives when they can. So on National Voter Registration Day, if there’s a young person in your family who does something caring, whether it’s a bit of help with chores, volunteering, helping you sort out paperwork, or just phoning for a chat, do something caring for them.

Tell them to get on the computer or get their smartphone out and register to vote here.

It’ll only take five minutes and all they need is their name, address, and National Insurance number. They should have got their NI number at 16, but if they’ve lost or forgotten it, then get them to call 0300 200 3502 to find it.

It’s not difficult to do. Since I started my voter registration campaign in the New Year, I’ve been working with older family members across the country to get their younger relatives online and registering. Thanks to the work of my colleague Ivan Lewis, we’ve registered thousands of young people to vote.

Get a relative on the register today. I doubt you’ll be thanked for keeping on about it, but you’ll have given someone you care about a voice in how our country is run.

Tens of thousands of young people give up their time to help others.

Today, let’s give them a say in their future.

Liz Kendall is the MP for Leicester West and shadow minister for care and older people

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Mumslink shows how online parenting networks are coming of age

Women online are changing the relationship between digital domesticity and digital independence. 

The habit of “speaking as a mother” came in for its fair share of criticism this summer. Andrea Leadsom’s insinuation of superiority over Theresa May, her rival for the Tory leadership, elicited widespread scorn – not least from those who have done most to strengthen the voice of mothers as a group: internet mums.

Over the past 15 years, the ten million users a month who log on to Mumsnet have been courted by politicians in webchats and speeches alike. The 2010 general election was even named “the Mumsnet election” in their honour.

From the start, parenting networks attracted users interested in comradeship, as much as those after information. 

For Jo Williamson, a mother-of-two, the trigger was the day her second child left for school, a jarring experience. “I went into a blind panic, thinking: ‘Blimey, I’m going to be sitting in an empty house just waiting for everybody to come back.’” In response, Jo and her business partner Jane Pickard came up with the idea for a new site that focuses on the fluid nature of many women’s professional and family lives.

The resulting network, Mumslink, uses carefully edited news feeds to introduce readers to ideas, businesses and charities that complement all aspects of their lives – from recipe tips to volunteering. “There are so many women out there with a plethora of talents but most of the time, because you’re with your children, nobody asks you to get involved,” Williamson says.

Similar feelings of isolation led Siobhan Freegard to found Netmums, one of the UK’s largest parenting sites. Back in 2000, she had barely heard of “social networks”, nor of Mumsnet, which launched around the same time, yet she knew that mothers needed a place “to share their stories and maybe meet up in the offline world, too”.

Such identity-building led to divisions over “the right way” to be a mother. A tense rivalry developed between the slightly younger Netmums and the more educated and affluent Mumsnetters (Tesco and Waitrose didn’t sponsor different networks for nothing). Within the sites’ pages, differences of opinion over working v stay-at-home parenting sparked allegations of hostility and bullying. Still, the media researcher Sarah Pedersen says there’s an argument that these sites have helped produce a reduction in depression and anxiety, as well as greater opportunities for women to negotiate “the tension between themselves and their role as mothers”.

There are signs that this online culture is growing up. The perception of mums as “a bit insular and thick” is more easily countered, says Justine Roberts, the founder of Mumsnet, “now that so many mothers are able to express their individuality, their interests and their expertise in the public domain”.

According to Freegard, the very act of online sharing has helped begin to repair the rifts within the parenting debate. “With social media, we see working mums and part-time mums, and we see mums changing roles as their children change ages, and we understand that there are different angles to things – that everyone has their story.”

This is more pronounced in the world of video blogging, Freegard says. On her YouTube channel, Channel Mum, people talk calmly about controversial subjects that would have been a “bloodbath” on Netmums, such as ear piercing for very young children. “With video, you can see the person in real life and that helps you feel for their story,” she says.

Perhaps the greatest effect, however, has been on how the internet allows parents to work from home. As many as 160,000 part-time ventures have been started by British women in the past two years alone, self-styled kitchen-table start-ups. Sites such as Mumslink (similarly funded by Williamson and Pickard and run out of the former’s front room in Hertfordshire) aim to help this home-based workforce with new clients. One Mumslinker visits the site to write about her own line of natural nail varnish, another to promote her hot-tub business. The company Digital Mums uses it to encourage women to expand their digital skills.

Commercial savvy is something that Freegard is also keen to develop at Channel Mum – equipping her contributors with financial advice and small stipends. “I remember looking at mummy bloggers and thinking, ‘You guys didn’t get properly organised,’” she says. Freegard points out that most early mum bloggers never grew their audience beyond those already involved in parenting online, and struggled to become more professional as a result.

Quite what the future relationships will be between the brands, businesses and audiences for information on parenting has yet to be established. Some users will baulk at being increasingly cast in the role of consumer. At the same time, the networks’ names – Mumsnet, Netmums, Mumslink, Channel Mum – suggest that parenting is still a woman’s domain.

Yet a better balance seems to be emerging in the relationship between digital domesticity and digital independence. Greater gender equality in the distribution of start-up funding, more job vacancies that allow flexible working, and increasing numbers of prominent women in the tech industry are just some of the things the community is striving to promote. In Britain, which has an ageing population and an ever-growing community of carers, the rise of these networks seems sure to be a net gain for us all. 

For more, visit: mumslink.com

India Bourke is the New Statesman's editorial assistant.

This article first appeared in the 25 August 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Cameron: the legacy of a loser