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05 May 2016

Today is the day we have all been waiting for (and if it hasn’t it should have been) – time to elect our new Mayor of London.

As a young person living and working in London I really do feel I have a duty to vote. But I also have a burning desire to vote to ensure my future and that of other young people is a positive and fair one so that we can all excel and achieve in life.

But this hasn’t always been the case, and I wouldn’t say I’ve been that politically engaged before. I’m now 24 years old and last year’s General Election was the first time I’d ever felt I had a democratic voice. Whilst working at London Youth – a network of diverse community youth organisations supporting and challenging young people right across the capital – I did a lot of work in the build up to the 2015 election around engaging young people in politics and the importance of them voting. Learning all this new information myself also made me feel more prepared and I genuinely felt empowered to make my own voice heard.

For me the London Mayoral election feels more important than the General Election as this will directly affect my life in the City. The next mayor will implement his or her proposed policies and London will face some significant changes as a result – hopefully for the better! This is why it is extremely important that we all take the time to go out and vote, and hopefully elect the right person to build on what’s already working and improve our London to help everyone.

Specifically, I want to know what the next Mayor of London will do for young people. I’ve been quite surprised and frustrated at the lack of policies and efforts to engage young people directly in mayoral campaigns running up to today. And it’s no wonder that that so many fellow young Londoners have been feeling disconnected with the candidates and their policies.

When I first read some of the candidates’ manifestos any mention in there about young people focussed mainly on funding programmes to help young people who have been involved in crime or gangs. But what about young people who are not on the path of crime or associated with gangs? How will the next Mayor of London support all young Londoners to succeed?

Recently both Harry Kane, an England football international and Rio Ferdinand, an ex-England football international, have gone on record to stress the importance of youth work in local communities. And yes I know some of the mayoral candidates have since gone on record to pledge their support for this. But why hasn’t engaging young people in their mayoral campaigns been more of a priority before?

I’ve heard a lot of talk around community policing, but what’s been missing is the recognition for the importance of youth clubs and youth work in communities, and the support they’ll receive. The cuts to the youth sector have hit the community youth clubs the most and these clubs are instrumental in building up the resilience of young people and giving them the platform to move on in life. Schools can’t do everything and is often not the right environment for some to develop and grow. Take the example of youth employment. What is the point of creating all these new jobs if young people do not have the necessary skills or support to, firstly fill them, and secondly, sustain them? A local partnership and youth work approach, like Talent Match London, can help fill this gap and support young people in ways schools may struggle to. Funding must be put back in the youth sector to continue to support the next generation of young people.

Housing is obviously a hot topic in the mayoral race. This is a huge issue London-wide and across all ages, but also a massive barrier for lots of young people. The thought of getting onto the property ladder at my age is totally unthinkable right now – it is a distant dream. Even renting in the capital is extremely expensive, especially if you are on the London Living Wage like me. There is a lot of worry around the term ‘affordable’ and I don’t feel that it’s been clearly defined by any of the candidates. The new Mayor needs to make sure all these new houses are actually affordable for those who really need it, especially young people.

And finally, my advice to all the candidates running: becoming London Mayor is a massive responsibility and you need to serve all Londoners, especially those who may not directly ask for your help, giving them a platform to succeed in this City.

If you think the same as me, and haven’t had a chance to vote yet, make sure you get out and do it before 10pm tonight. It’s the first thing I’ll be doing once I finish work today.

It’s time to go vote and have your say!