Politicians would be stupid to ignore young people, warns president of NUS

The balance of power will be in the hands of student voters in the next general election, says Toni Pearce, president of the National Union of Students (NUS).

Speaking to the Guardian, Pearce says: “This is the year young people are going to make a difference and show politicians that they would be stupid to ignore them.”

She dismisses the stereotype of apathetic youth: “It’s an easy get-out to say young people are apathetic, because it means you don’t have to do anything for them. But students are as important and powerful as any other demographic. You can’t shut young people out of politics.”

In fact, student engagement in politics is at a new high. Recent research from the NUS shows that nearly three quarters of students would vote if there were a general election tomorrow – a figure that has risen by a third since February.

The combination of being “lied to” by politicians at the last general election, along with the effects of austerity, has galvanised students, says Pearce.

And the involvement of young people in the Scottish referendum last summer – a record 3.6 million people voted and more than 100,000 16- to 17-year-olds registered to vote – has also had an effect.

“Students are really politicised. They are frustrated that they were lied to at the last general election, and that’s motivated them to get involved. They want their voices to be heard, because they’re fed up of being set to one side.”

The NUS says students could swing 191 seats at the general election. It has calculated that full-time students within those constituencies represent a bigger proportion of the electorate than the swing required to change the 2010 outcome.

Politicians need to wake up and listen to what young people want, warned Pearce. “The balance of power is in the hands of student constituents. Politicians in Westminster need to realise that students have the power to remove them from their seats.”

Pearce also warned that politicians who broke the pledge not to raise tuition fees at the last election would be held to account and that “Nick Clegg is poison at the ballot box when it comes to students”.

The comments come as NUS releases its manifesto, outlining what the 600-strong body of student unions will be demanding from politicians in 2015.

The manifesto, named the “new deal for the next generation”, lists 30 demands, under the categories of education, work and community.

Demands include:

-The phasing out of tuition fees.
-A new and better education maintenance allowance (EMA).
-Protection for the disabled students allowance.
-The raising of the apprentice minimum wage.
-The introduction of a living wage.
-The lowering of the voting age to 16.
-Better sex and relationships education in schools.
-The scrapping of letting agent fees.
-Pearce says: “We were told that if you go to school, college or university and work hard, then you’ll get a -decent job that allows you to support your family. That promise was made to my generation and it’s been abandoned.

“My generation stands to be the first in history to be worse off than our parents. That’s something that we should all be worried about.”

(Source: TheGuardian)


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