Today’s debate in the House of Commons on Votes at 16 was a disappointment for young people across the UK.
The debate was preceded by a fantastic bill from Steve Reed MP on the use of restraint in mental health facilities. It was fantastic to hear such a great discussion on mental health, and particularly the use of restraint on young people and people from black, Asian and minority ethnic communities. There was great support across the house for improving mental health provision, support and prevention, so much so that one MP described it as ‘violent agreement’!
But what was disappointing that this great sense of agreement did not lead to an earlier vote, giving time for votes at 16 to be properly debated. After around an hour and half parliament ran out of time and the debate ended without a vote. Whilst the vocal support for mental health is welcomed we are disappointed that yet again the opportunity to extend the franchise to 16 and 17 year olds has been kicked into the long grass yet again.
So many young people have been campaigning on this issue for many years. And it is testament to the work of Members of Youth Parliament and British Youth Council member organisations like NUS that so many MPs committed to turn up and support the bill today.
But this does not mean that the fight for votes at 16 is over. The bill may yet get its day in Parliament, and has been rescheduled for 1 December 2017. And this Private Members Bill has really put the spotlight back onto the issue, raising awareness of the importance of young people having a voice, and the necessity of citizenship education to develop an informed and engaged electorate.
The Votes at 16 Coalition, facilitated by the British Youth Council, will continue to argue the case for votes at 16. Support is growing, with more council passing motions in support. Just this week Belfast has become the latest city to pass a motion in support of votes at 16. And we look to Wales where they have been consulting on whether to lower the voting age to 16 for elections to the Assembly.
Valuing youth voice is crucial to increasing the engagement of young people in society and democracy. Extending the right to vote to 16 and 17 year olds, combined with a curriculum for life that builds young people’s knowledge and understanding of the political process, is an essential step on the road to ensuring that decision makers to talk to young people, not about them.
I am delighted to be joining the British Youth Council as Chief Executive. I have had such a warm welcome already from members, trustees, staff and stakeholders and have been chomping at the bit to get started. Ever since I became a Brownie at the age of 7, I have been exposed to the benefits of young people having a voice and the confidence that they can make a difference. More than ever it is crucial that we create every opportunity for young people to be at the heart of decision-making, influencing and shaping those decisions that impact on their lives, as well as taking action within their communities.
It has been great to be able to attend two major members’ events in the run up to starting, giving me a great flavour of things to come. In September I attended the Annual Council Meeting and was so impressed by the quality of motions and debates. The young people who attended, from organisations as diverse as The Scout Association and Ambitious about Autism to Wigan and Leigh Youth Cabinet and Croydon Youth Council, spoke with passion and integrity, and showed great respect for each other’s views. Two weeks ago, I felt truly honoured to have been sitting in the gallery for the UK Youth Parliament sitting in the House of Commons. This event shows the power of youth voice and gives me hope that these amazing young people can truly make a difference through their commitment and actions.
And so it is fantastic to stepping into this role in #iwill week, a moment when we are all celebrating youth social action and the difference that young people can make. The British Youth Council is proud to be a supporter of the #iwill campaign and will be joining in the celebrations this week. It is particularly special that the British Youth Council has been nominated for two Children and Young People Now Awards including the Youth Volunteering and Social Action Award, recognising the outstanding work by young people, staff and trustees on Make Your Mark, which this year gave almost a million young people a chance to have their say, and the campaigns on mental health and racism and religious discrimination. Particular thanks need to be given to our former CEO, James Cathcart, whose passion and commitment to youth voice and participation was unbounded.
I am now looking forward to working with the Board of Trustees and staff team to drive forward the vision of the British Youth Council. We will be developing a new strategy, in consultation with members, young people and stakeholders, to ensure that the British Youth Council continues to empower young people with the skills, knowledge and confidence to be heard and make a difference, locally, nationally and globally.