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EDITIONS
Thursday, 6 February, 2003, 12:03 GMT
Give babies a vote, says think-tank
School children
Children are too often seen but not heard, says Demos
Parents should be given extra votes to cast on behalf of their children and the voting age should be lowered to 14, says a leading think-tank.

A new report from Demos says children are getting a bigger say in family life but are becoming "invisible citizens" in the public sphere.

The new measures would encourage political discussion at home, as well as forcing politicians to do more to tackle children's needs, it says.

Political parties offer a lot of rhetoric about the "family", but this often fails to translate into child-friendly policies, says the report.

Family feuds?

Under the "baby ballots" proposal, children would get voting rights from birth - with their parents choosing how to use their offspring's vote.

When a child reaches 14, he or she would then cast votes for themselves.

The idea of parents voting on their children's behalf could provoke some interesting spats around the kitchen table.

Tony Blair's father, for example, was a Conservative, and Labour MP Fiona MacTaggart's father was actually a Tory MP.

Gillian Thomas, author of the Other People's Children report, says people are wrong when they think "children have never had it so good".

Ballot box
The proposals would create 13m new votes
In fact, poverty has affected children more than other group, she argues.

As well as new childhood diseases like asthma and mental illness, one quarter of children also have to cope with the trauma of family breakdown.

Sales of playing fields and the fact that child carers earn less than supermarket shelf-stackers are examples of failures to protect children's interests, she argues.

Ms Thomas' proposal of "baby ballots" for parents with children aged up to 13 would create 10 million extra votes.

Lowering the voting age to 14 from 18 would create another three million new voters.

Vicious circle

Ms Thomas says: "Every parent tries to do their best for their children but there are limits to how much the family can do without good public services and community support.

"Baby ballots would encourage parents to think about what political parties can offer their own children and also to other people's children.

We are creating a two-tier society where parents become disconnected from people without children.

Gillian Thomas
"This would force politicians to make children's quality of life a higher priority."

Ms Thomas identifies a vicious circle where children are neither seen nor heard in public.

"This is a worrying trend because we are creating a two-tier society where parents become disconnected from people without children.

"This can only increase the lack of interest and responsibility that adults feel towards all children.

"Unless we accept that we should all be concerned about other people's children, it will be difficult to improve their quality of life."

'Play leader'

The report also predicts that children will be ignored even more as they become a relatively smaller group in an ageing society.

Other proposals in the report include:

  • Ensuring the Treasury uses "generational accountancy" to show how government policies affect different age groups
  • Establishing a "national play leader" to supervise a play strategy linked to health and education
  • Making the new Equalities Commission responsible for preventing discrimination against children, thus avoiding the "bureaucracy" of a specific children's commissioner
  • Recast the role of schools so they are involved in directly delivering "well-being" and not just academic success for their students.

A private members' bill proposed by Conservative peer Lord Lucas is pushing for the voting age to be lowered to 16.

That bill has been given an unopposed second reading in the House of Lords, but stands little chance of becoming law.

Home Office Minister Lord Bassam last month said the government did not oppose the idea outright.

But he stressed that 18 was the voting age in most countries.

"At this stage, the proposal is premature," he said. "There has to be widespread public debate first."

Alex Folkes, campaign manager for the Votes At 16 pressure group, suggested parents would really cast extra votes in the same way as their first votes.

Mr Folkes said: "We live in a democracy where it is one person, one vote."

By the age of 16, however, people had finished citizenship classes and had learned about voting, he argued.

See also:

05 Sep 02 | Politics
24 Jul 01 | Politics
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