One of the most effective pillars of our successful 2017 General Election campaign in Ipswich was our targeted and school-specific information on the real-terms cuts to school income proposed in the Tories’ so-called “Fair Funding” proposals. But while I gained a great deal from standing with Labour campaigners outside many of the Primary Schools in Ipswich and meeting the parents who were angry about the attacks on their children’s education, the most enjoyable day of the whole campaign didn’t involve parents at all.
Angela Rayner visited Ipswich and together we witnessed democracy in action. Sidegate Primary School organised a school election. The three classes in the 5th year acted as political parties, selected leaders, wrote manifestos, made party political broadcasts which were shown to the other children, and we were invited to their hustings at which the rival candidates for “School Prime Minister” spoke to the other children and took questions on their platforms. And the platforms were real platforms – the school fund has made money available so that the new “School Prime Minister” can fulfil the practical and fully-costed pledges she made in her campaign – so very different from the real Prime Minister! Despite feeling extremely tired by that time, I was thrilled to be given a personal guided tour of the school fete by the newly elected Prime Minister on the Saturday morning after my own election as MP for Ipswich.
This level of engagement is unusual for primary schools, but it is becoming more usual in secondary schools, and quite rightly so. More and more secondary schools are holding elections for school councils and genuinely empowering their school council members to have a real effect. Learning about democracy is crucial for all of our children and young people, but actually participating in it themselves is, I believe, a far more effective way of embedding the concepts of democratic decision-taking and of voting for representatives and holding them to account.
But how much more seriously teenagers would take such democratic engagement if they were themselves about to vote in real elections for their local Borough Council or Member of Parliament. It is often said that the electorate were more informed about the issues in 1945 than ever before, because prior to demobilisation so many servicemen and women took part in discussion groups and classes in history and politics. Above all, they were able to discuss the issues amongst themselves, and were not dependent on opinions fed to them through the mainstream media.
The same dynamic applies in schools. We know that if young people vote at their first possible election they are likely to carry on voting. We also know that a majority of under-25s still do not vote at all. If most young people cast their first vote while still at school, the level of engagement and support they would have during the election period, and the extent to which they could discuss the issues and make a decision based on something other than the Sun Editorial or on the views of their parents, would be massively enhanced. And the likelihood is that, having voted for the first time in a situation where their classmates are also voting and will encourage them with a level of group expectation, they will then continue to vote once they are out in the world on their own.
I believe by introducing votes at 16 we could reverse the trend for lower and lower turnout levels, and come to expect the proportion of teenagers and twenty-somethings who regularly vote to be as high – or higher – than their parents. But even more importantly, I believe that enabling the first vote that people make to be within the context of education, we will start to finally break away from the superficial tribalism that has characterised twentieth-century democracy, and forge a new democratic relationship with the voters which is based on them actually thinking about the issues before voting.
The teenagers of today will one day rule the world – and the older generation have a responsibility to them today by paving the way to help determine the future for us all be that in industry, business, politics or the community.
Just a few short years ago, I was frustrated that only a very small handful of young people took any interest in the world outside their own – but the recent surge in the numbers not just showing an interest, but actively engaged in politics, has exceeded my hopes and expectations.
We saw them out on the streets of Stockton during the general election, talking to people of all ages but most important of all, reaching and engaging with other young people drawing them in and helping them understand how politics affects all our lives.
But many of those young people, old enough to work and pay taxes too, were denied the ultimate tool to influence the future – the right to vote.
It is time for the change to be made.
I am continuously and pleasantly surprised at the determination and resilience of the young people in our society today. We live in a challenging and ever-changing world, and I believe it is more important than ever before that young people have a say in the decisions of today which will affect them tomorrow.
Votes at 16 has been thrown around and debated for years, and has been ignored by successive Governments. But I believe attitudes may finally be changing. There are all manner of “adult things” that 16 year olds can or have to do – they can even join the armed forces and fire guns. It’s foolish to say that they don’t deserve to be able to vote because they’re too young.
Yes, we need real political and financial education in schools to help equip our young people for the future – but I don’t doubt that 16 year olds are extremely well equipped to have a real say over what issues affect them, and give them the power to make change in their own communities.
I trust the young of today to be those leaders of tomorrow. But, in order to lead with confidence and strength, they need our support now.
As a UK Young Ambassador representing Wales back in 2010, I was given the opportunity to represent young people in the UK at international conferences that required representation of young people. Upon reflection, and throughout the experience of two academic degrees, this has been the opportunity that provided me with the best experience of practical learning in my professional development.
With this experience in mind, the opportunity to work on the International programmes at the British Youth Council was one I could not refuse. As a beneficiary and Alumni of the organisation as a young person, I was keen to be on the other side of the table in shaping opportunities and the experiences of young people participating internationally – especially in such a crucial and uncertain political climate.
At the first residential that I assisted at, I was able to see that the opportunities for young people to develop their skills diplomatically, socially and professionally are still a key element of the exchange of support from the British Youth Council. This was a special experience for me to see how other people are still inspired by the opportunities that they have to engage in diplomatic exchanges across the world and especially for them to recognise how this will benefit their futures and has shaped their global outlook. This first opportunity reinforced that it was important for me to ensure that my support of young people that they are aware of what a brilliant process it is, that their input is important, as well as realise their own potential for development.
My responsibilities in the role included managing and shaping the new changes to the UK Young Ambassador programme. From advertising the roles to shortlisting, interviewing and planning elections, I was motivated by the massive response, passion and commitment of the young people who were applying for the roles. This was mirrored in the participation of young people at the many events I was able to plan and manage. Events included Equality 4 Us where young people came together to create a youth friendly charter to reporting hate crime, to engaging with young people and decision makers in Northern Ireland on a post-Brexit future.
A key activity I wanted to contribute towards was the UK Youth Parliament Annual Sitting. I was really excited to be asked to facilitate sessions for the South East of England. As a facilitator, it was a unique opportunity to work with young people in such a diverse age range (11-18) and provide a forum for them to work together to plan, develop and debate. This opportunity has given me the skills to facilitate sessions of my own in the future and transfer skills to my next role as a doctoral researcher, where a key part of my time will be teaching and engaging others in my research.
Moving and working in London was both exhausting and fabulous. I got to attend partner meetings with key funders, internal and external stakeholders as well as expand my PR experience through the use of social media. The biggest benefit of this move was that I got to be in the office every day with a team of people who are dedicated, supportive and brilliant at what they do. I learned something new from every person I got to work with and it would be hard to beat the team atmosphere in any other role. As a charity for young people, ran by young people, the support from the community of staff, trustees and young people we engage with made difficult tasks worthwhile and the successes were met with twice the celebration. I’m looking forward to continuing to support the work of the British Youth Council and share their many successes wherever I can.
The 12th August 2017 is International Youth Day and the theme this year is building peace. In the spirit of working together Rowan Munson, alumni member of the NHS Youth Forum and Kath Evans, Experience of Care Lead for Maternity, Children and Young People at NHS England co-author this blog.
“Peace cannot be kept by force; it can only be achieved by understanding”
Rowan draws on Einstein’s wisdom; he noted how at the core of peace is a full understanding of people and their concerns. Rowan reflects that ‘throughout the NHS and Government there is an increasing force behind understanding patients, their needs as whole people, not just conditions, prescriptions and tick-box outcomes but physically, mentally and socially. Everyone can play a part in building a peace in healthcare, by working to create a mutually beneficial equilibrium between patients, providers and commissioners; by simply opening your ears, hearts and minds to the Future NHS.’
‘Anyone who has the privilege of working with young people in the NHS knows that they are ‘agents of change’ and many practitioners are surprised that a relatively small investment in youth facilitation, train tickets and pizza can result in transformational improvements to services. Perhaps what is most surprising is the impact on young people and practitioners, both flourish in confidence with these opportunities to work together’ shares Kath.
Speaking to young people enables us to hear ‘from the horse’s mouth’ (and often very directly!) how services could be improved, how their care outcomes could be enhanced or how efficiencies could be made.
Today is a good time to reflect and consider how we continue to grow the involvement of young people across the NHS, and multiply the benefits it brings.
The Power of Voice
The voice of young people, not only in their care but in the running of services continues to grow and mature. Many organisations including GP practices, local HealthWatch teams and Trusts, now have their own ‘Youth Forums’ which influence boards and work with services to drive improvements in care.
The NHS Youth Forum supported by the British Youth Council and NHS England has over the last four years influenced, supported and effectively challenged the Department of Health, Public Health England and NHS England to ensure that the voices of young people are heard, valued and actioned across the NHS. They have run a range of projects covering healthcare rights, mental health and communication between health professionals and young people. The NHS Youth Forum also blogged for National Voices recently about opportunities to better engage young people in Health and Social Care.
Every-day Changemakers, through volunteering
Many NHS organisations are now embracing ‘Youth Social Action’ and are increasing volunteering opportunities for young people so that they are part of the intergenerational fabric of NHS organisations, young people are not purely ‘receivers of care’ but contributors to the NHS too. This guide from Volunteering Matters assists organisations to open their doors to young people and the ‘iWill’ campaign which Ruth May, Director of Nursing at NHS Improvement recently wrote to NHS Trusts about, champions the importance of increasing youth social action opportunities.
Employment Embeds Skills & Innovation
Rowan suggests that the best way to “Talk to tomorrow, today” is to employ young people, and embed them within the team; this continues to grow thanks to the leadership of Health Education England with their ‘Get in, get on, go further’ and NHS Employers. There’s great practice happening across the country to enhance social mobility.
Excitingly, Kath shares that the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) is leading a programme called ‘I can, We can’ which is sharing how the NHS can get better at employing young adults with learning difficulties and physical disabilities, supported by the National Development Team for Inclusion (NDTi) and Preparing for Adulthood. The NHS can fulfil a societal role by role modelling employment opportunities for young people with specific needs by providing supported internships.
So on International Youth Day, can we challenge ourselves, our teams and our organisations….
- How can we hear and action the voices of young people in their care and at every level of the NHS?
- How can we open up volunteering opportunities to enable young people to become every-day change makers in the NHS?
- How can we create employment opportunities for young people, especially those with learning and physical disabilities, to ensure that we continue to create a diverse workforce that is representative of the communities we serve?
Young people can be ‘agents for change’, the architects of tomorrow’s world, they just need the tools to do it, to be empowered and that’s up to people like us, shares Kath, those who work in the system must keep being courageous and keep thinking and doing differently by engaging with young people to enhance our understanding.
The final word goes to Rowan …
“Children are our future. Teach them well and let them lead the way.”
Rowan Munson tweets as @rowanmunson
Rowan is an alumni member of the NHS Youth Forum. He is committed to making sure young people are heard in healthcare issues, he has represented young people, locally at the district and county councils, Patient Participation Groups & his Clinical Commissioning Group, including founding Surrey’s youth representation platform. He says his interest in health issues started after he was ping-ponged through several departments, in several organisations.
Kath Evans tweets as @kathevans2
Kath is a registered general and children’s nurse and her career has included clinical, educational, managerial and service improvement roles. She is Experience of Care Lead for Maternity, Infants, Children and Young People at NHS England where she is committed to ensuring the voices of children, young people, families/carers and maternity service users are heard in their care and in the design, delivery and commissioning of services.
On Friday 28th July 2017, members of the UK Youth Parliament gathered together at Liverpool Hope University for its Annual Sitting 2017. The event was a major success with over 250 Members of Youth Parliaments (MYPs) attending the programme. The Annual Sitting is a weekend that every MYP looks forward to, and they were not let down!
The opening ceremony kicked off festivities with MYPs being informed about what their weekend was to entail, they had an emotional speech from representatives of the Holocaust Educational Trust and they were even treated to the now infamous Procedure Group dance! With positivity and passion, MYPs experienced their first regional and national meeting of the weekend, with their Procedure Group leading the session, ably supported by their Youth Democracy Co-ordinator. This was an effective session as Members of Youth Parliament developed a greater understanding of the Big Vote and their role in shaping the UK Youth Parliament manifesto. With the first Big Vote session less than 12 hours away, MYPs were set an overnight task that aimed to develop their public speaking skills; topics for MYPs to speak on ranged from Votes at 16 to their own policy motions for the next day to their own topic, just with the proviso that they delivered their speech with passion.
Refreshed for the next day, MYPs woke up to a speech from the Right Honourable John Bercow MP, Speaker of the House of Commons, who spoke eloquently on the issues of modernising parliament, the importance of having a youth voice and why he is personally so passionate about the Youth Parliament. It was an honour and a privilege for the Procedure Group team to host Mr Bercow’s visit to the Annual Sitting and I’m sure that all MYPs would agree that his words of wisdom will stay with us for a long time.
The afternoon Q&A Session was also a huge success. The panel spoke about a range of issues including Brexit and Votes at 16. The panel was chaired by former member of Parliament Julie Hilling. We thank all of the panellists for their time.
The Big Vote sessions were the major highlight of the weekend, with MYPs from across the country coming together in order to discuss issues facing young people. The quality of debate was incredible on both days with key points being made on each motion. MYPs passed 16 motions over the weekend, which means that they are now in the UK Youth Parliament manifesto. Members of Youth Parliament will now use the manifesto to prioritise their top ten issues; the top 10 most voted for issues will feature on this year’s Make Your Mark ballot, which is being launched nationwide on August 12th. The Big Vote is such a key part of the UK Youth Parliament calendar and MYPs should be proud of their debates this year!
Ultimately, Annual Sitting 2017 was a huge success. Members of Youth Parliament had a brilliant weekend and on behalf of the Procedures Group, we had a great time leading your workshops and your other sessions (especially delivering the Procedure Group dance!!). #UKYP17 was brilliant, let’s keep up the passion and deliver to our constituents!
My time at the British Youth Council has been exciting, new and busy to say the least! I have been exposed to and given different opportunities that I will remember for a very long time. From being in contact with journalists to meeting and speaking with people from different industries who all come together to do something great; give young people like myself a voice.
If you are wondering about the title of this post, this is what I first thought when I was told that I would be involved in the planning process for the Youth Select Committee hearings this year. My role on the day involved helping to create tweets which highlighted the main points, arguments and ideas given by those who gave up their time to give evidence on an important issue that affects thousands of young people every day; body image, it’s contributing factors and how we can ensure that difference and diversity is celebrated, rather than used as a tool of abuse. During the first committee hearing, I was able to meet and hear people who I personally followed, speak about issues close to myself, for example, the blogger The Slumflower who used her platform to speak about the body issues affecting women of colour. During the second hearing, I was able to meet someone in policy (who went to the same university that I currently attend!) and find out about opportunities at my university which may help to provide a pathway into a similar industry. (I also got to hear John Bercow, Speaker of the House of Commons say ‘ORDERR’ live)
Each day at the Brtish Youth Council has been different. Whether it’s been a long term project over a period of months or a simple day meeting, my skills have been put to test in this fast-paced environment. Sometimes, I have needed a little extra help or explanation about specific tasks. But the great thing is, the British Youth Council staff are very understanding and have offered support and clarity when I am having difficulty with a task. A chance for creativity has also been heavily present in my role. Whether it be designing tweets which are able to draw people in and get them involved in projects (Make Your Mark, or giving evidence to the Youth Select Committee) or finding creative solutions to problems, I have had a chance to bring some of my own ideas into my work.
I am really grateful and happy that I have had this opportunity. I hope to use this experience when I’m further into the working world, and the British Youth Council is something I hope to continue to get involved with, well past my youth.
Today we heard the Government’s legislative plan via the Queen’s Speech. There was some good news, some expected news, and a huge missed opportunity.
The British Youth Council campaigned on six key issues in the run up to the General Election. These are the issues that young people have told us are important to them and they want to Government to listen.
So the good news is a commitment to reforming mental health legislation to ensure that mental health is prioritised in the NHS. Our Youth Select Committee in 2015 made recommendations to Government on issues such as funding, training for GPs, and support in education, and we look forward to seeing the detail of the new legislation.
We are also pleased to see a commitment to raising the National Living Wage. The recent Social Mobility Barometer highlighted that young people believe their future to be bleak, and proper and fair pay for work is crucial to this. So whilst the announcement today is good news we would like to see this go further, with the introduction of the real Living Wage, and a pay structure that does not discriminate by age.
As expected, there is a significant number of legislative proposals in relation to Brexit. This is going to dominate the political narrative over the next two years. Therefore Proposals around the great repeal bill, immigration and trade come as no surprise.
What is severely lacking is the government’s response to young people. The youth vote grew massively at this election, showing that young people care about political issues and will turn up when politicians show that are listening. What is missing from all the talk of Brexit is a commitment to putting young people at the heart of negotiations. We have written to the Prime Minister seeking an early to meeting to discuss how we can work to ensure young people are part of the process and not left behind.
Also missing is a commitment to invest in and listen to young people. BYC and the Votes at 16 Coalition have long been campaigning to lower the voting age to 16 in all public elections, complemented by comprehensive political literacy as part of a compulsory PSHE curriculum. This would ensure that all citizens understand our democratic processes and are prepared and empowered to play their part.
When I think of the word politics, several potent images of sceptical public politicians and highly emotive scandalous campaigns come to my mind. These days, my Facebook feed is flooded with news articles that appear to be published to rile the public into believing that all politicians are the same and that there is no point in voting at all.
Based on this media coverage, it’s almost as if we are living in an era where great ideas and ideologies are shadowed by boisterous public figures and shrewd personas. In light of this, can we really blame the millions of young people in the UK who choose to disengage with this petty drama? After all, what does the word politics even mean at its core? Last time I checked it definitely was not associated with personal attacks on the people who are actively championing change in our communities. Yet sadly, this is often the case.
Bringing about positive change to an imperfect society in an imperfect world is no easy task. However, it’s important to remember that we, the young people living in the United Kingdom have the responsibility to exercise our civic duty but most importantly, our right. This right is the golden ticket to progressive change- it’s our right to vote. It’s no surprise that we all have our own unique political priorities and viewpoints relating to the upcoming snap general election. However, I am pleased to note that through my work with the Erasmus Student Network, I find that more often than not, we as young people are open to the idea that we live in a world where we are united in our diversity. This is a truly wonderful thing!
We, the Erasmus Student Network in the UK, will continue to fight for student mobility and international opportunities for intercultural understanding now more than ever. Our vision is to empower young people to live, study and work abroad. For us, mobility is, in fact, a lifestyle! It is not just a way of living; it is a way of thinking. We want the UK government to support us in facilitating student mobility and empowering change! We want each and every young person across the UK to have a sense of what it truly means to belong to a larger community of young people; a community that is founded on mutual respect, intercultural understanding and joint collaboration. We need the Erasmus programme to stay!
In the wake of Brexit, many important decisions lie ahead. We as young people must consider who we want to represent our views both nationally and internationally. We must be heard. On June the 5th, we will be presented with the opportunity to cast our opinions at polling stations across the UK. Personally, I will be voting based on the principles that I value and cherish. I encourage you to vote based on what’s right for you!
So ask yourself the following questions: What do you value? What do you consider important in your daily life? What changes would you like to see? These are the questions to ask yourself before you vote this June. The power is in your hands, please don’t forget to use it to cast that precious vote you own!
I hear this so often from people, in regards to what many view as young people’s political disengagement. Not only is this stance is overly-simplistic and lacking in nuance, it’s fatalistic. It takes no accountability for encouraging further political engagement via traditional, more visible and measurable channels. If this argument were the case one would have to ask, chicken-or-egg-style; what came first? The de-prioritisation of young people within policy and mainstream political channels, or the supposed disengagement of young people from said channels? It’s easy to draw loose correlations void of analysis, but if we truly care about empowering young people to be effective political actors we must do more.
An example of a small action that would contribute to removing obstacles from the paths of budding young political actors, would be to avoid calling elections in the middle of exam periods. Many students have flagged this as an issue; not just finding the time to physically vote during such a crucial point in our lives, but to go through the respective party manifestos to make a thoroughly informed decision, also taking the time to understand where votes would be most effective (in the constituency of their university address or permanent home). This requires a fair understanding of how our political system works, yet no party has taken responsibility for making political education compulsory. In spite of this, over 90,000 young people aged 18 to 24 registered to vote on the 21st May this year alone. Last year there was a 64% turnout for the same age group during the EU referendum (not too far off the average turnout).
A UNISON report has shown that between April 2010 – 2016 an estimated £387m was cut from youth service spending. We, as young people, have had to endure consistent chipping away of the provisions we need within society, from the disappearance of youth clubs, careers services and the merging of youth work with other social services and as a result a reduction in specialist youth work roles. Young people have endured the tripling of university fees, funding to support them in education such as EMA scrapped, alongside housing benefit being stripped from 18-21 year olds.
Young people’s contributions to society and experiences are often downplayed to our disservice. Our current Prime Minister recently ruled out lowering the voting age to 16 if her Party is re-elected into office on June 8th. At the age of 16 we are eligible to join the army, and eligible to pay tax in a country we are not given the right to vote in. A common argument raised here is that young people lack experience. Yet it is counterintuitive to expect anyone other than a young person to have a greater real time experience of what it is like to be a young person. Of course, it is impossible to do this area justice in one blog post, but I hope this highlights just a few things that we must all consider when it comes to empowering young people politically, so that we can have a strong and stable government, changing Britain’s future for the many not the few.
Entering the world of work is hard. You might just be grateful for a position and dismiss the way you are treated in order to gain that golden ticket of a reference and work experience to progress to a graduate or entry level job. The reality is that graduates and school leavers are being offered internships in the UK and abroad that are not only unpaid but devoid in value for the future of that individual. At the British Youth Council, we believe that unpaid internships are ways for employers to reap the benefits of the young creative minds of today, without any cost.
We believe that internships should be required by law to pay the Real Living Wage. This will ensure that interns are able to take advantage of the opportunity to explore their career options without financial stress and the burden of taking on part time or extra work to fund their experiences.
Recently the European Youth Portal published a blog by a young woman who had experienced an internship that degraded her experiences as an educated, competent and enthusiastic employee. She was ‘relegated’ to making coffee for her employers and described her experience as ‘depressing’.
I am saddened that this was the case, as I too have experienced a traumatising internship experience abroad, that not only cost me thousands of pounds but led to a huge loss of confidence and trust in dedicating myself to another program. After landing in the USA (a country I had never been to before) I was informed that the job I had worked so hard to secure my visa for was no longer viable – this was working for a congressman, in one of the oldest and most respected establishments of the American state. To this day I have not received an apology or acknowledgement of the stress that this caused to me, never mind the financial strain this put me under.
Luckily, I have managed to move back with my parents and save up that money that has allowed me to pursue a meaningful and fulfilling opportunity as a paid International Programmes Intern at the British Youth Council. Here, I am able to utilise my experiences as a volunteer in this role as well as my academic knowledge of international relations. I feel valued in my role and have been given responsibilities that will allow me to make a proud impact on the organisation and its support of young people both nationally and internationally.
I hope that this next Parliament recognises the vulnerability of our young workforce in gaining those opportunities, that will set their attitude and outlook on work for life. Our young people need to be educated and protected in order to gain meaningful experiences that will contribute to them realising their potential, and paid a real living wage.