Opinion: The youth vote and why you should give a damn

OPINION: When the last General Election took place in 2014 I was 20 years old, and I didn't vote.

It's something I'm embarrassed to admit because in the years since I've changed my tune. A lot. 

As it turns out, I wasn't alone in my impassiveness. Voters aged 18-24 had by far the lowest turnout at the polls, with just 62 percent of us actually caring enough to cast a vote. 

It's looking likely things will play out in a similar fashion this year - more than 35 percent of us haven't yet registered to vote in September's election. 

You might also think, as 20-year-old me once did, that Government with all its dense policies, boring speeches, and attention-seeking candidates isn't relevant to your daily life. Unless it made it onto John Oliver's Last Week Tonight, it ain't for you.

But if you drove to work today, or you jumped on a bus, or you've got a student loan you're trying to forget about, then you should care. 

So with just over eight weeks until the election, I'm presenting to all youths who aren't yet enrolled to vote - or might just not bother - my five best reasons as to why you should.

1. Financial help for students

Living costs and allowances for students is something that's been thrown around in policy chat a lot. And for good reason.

The price students are paying to bunker down in often damp, sometimes mouldy homes is on the rise. Latest Trade Me figures show the average price to rent a room in Auckland or Wellington is more than $200, but student living costs are capped at $178.81.

That's a shortfall of more than $20 a week and that's not taking into account bills, food, or the IV line of coffee the average student needs to get them through their first-year business papers.

2. Health issues

Going to the doctor is damn expensive. At whatever age, it's easy to trick yourself into believing every cough, sniffle or itch will go away on its own to save yourself that $40 bill - but sometimes it just won't.

For women, the issue is even more relevant. While we have a cost cut on the way for contraception pill prescriptions, many of us have a raft of other issues that need the doc's attention. And that's not even touching on our troubled mental health system.

Each party has different priorities when it comes to health spending, whether it be injecting funds into tackling our youth suicide rates, or helping fast-track elective surgeries. Likewise, we all have different concerns and links to various areas of the healthcare system.

We each need to figure out which party's policies align with our interests, and whether this will affect our vote. 

3. Housing

As more and more 'Bought a house this weekend!' Facebook posts pop up on your feed (did they REALLY just geo-tag that in Ponsonby?!), home ownership becomes more and more of a contentious topic.

The average value of homes across New Zealand has skyrocketed 44 percent in the past four years. This is massive.

If you're looking to buy in Timaru you might be okay. But if you're looking to buy in Wellington or god forbid, Auckland, not so much. KiwiSaver won't save you here.

Every major party has a plan they say will make housing more affordable so this is your chance to tell them what you think.

4. Environmental issues

This area should logically concern us more than any other voting age group, since we're going to be around for longer. Just last week a new study came out saying we're in the middle of the world's sixth mass extinction. The global bee population is in danger, and without them our food supply is in real danger.

Figuring out which parties are going to give us the best shot against global warming and the handful of other natural crises on the table is one way to actively take control of our future.

5. Social inequality

New Zealand has one of the worst measures of inequality among our developed countries. The gap between the haves and the have-nots is huge, and according to research it's getting bigger.

There are so many individuals out there doing great things - just last week I interviewed a Manurewa resident who cooks meals in bulk and marches around the suburb feeding the homeless twice a week.

But for things to really, really change, we need something bigger.

We need our own 'youthquake'

We also need our politicians to care more about getting us to vote. Many young New Zealanders lack information about how our political system works, let alone what each party has to offer.

All in all, the push to get young Kiwis engaged with our politicians and forming queues at the ballot boxes on September 23 is a shadow of what other countries have done.

Last month's snap election in the UK saw a surge in youth voting - so much so it was coined the "youthquake". Turnout among 18- to 24-year-olds was higher than it had been in the past three elections, and a lot of this is being put down to Jeremy Corbyn's push to engage young voters.

The Labour leader addressed student voter at rallies, he posed for selfies, and in the mix of this, he somehow got young people to care.

Just over the ditch, our Aussie friends are actually fined $20 if they don't vote. It seems like an aggressive way to engage the masses, but turnout for the country's 2016 Federal Election suggests it worked.

Bill English can post as many Facebook videos about spaghetti on pizza as he likes, but it's unlikely this will get us lining up to tick the boxes. We deserve more credit than that.

Alice Peacock is a radio reporter for Newshub.

 

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