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.
As a fifteen-year-old, I campaigned in the Scottish Independence referendum but I could not vote. When I turned sixteen, I was trusted as a door-to-door canvasser for general election but was not seen mature enough to vote. At seventeen, the government successfully denied the voice of over 1.5 million 16 and 17-year-olds in the UK. No, I did not vote for Brexit but I still have to live it! Now finally it’s the time. My polling card is more than just a document which gives information about the election. It is a symbol of empowerment to me. I finally felt I too had arrived.
Young people engaging in politics is essential but politicians listening to young people is equally important. They were quick to criticise the low turnout but did they try to solve it? Why would a young person be interested to get pale, stale and male back in the office? When we only hear criticism on our behaviour during their term in office. Don’t get me wrong. Yes, young people do care about politics but we are continuously alienated by politicians. Political figures need to train themselves to be role models. They need to show us their human side. We (young people) are sick and tired of seeing their immature, petty and mean behaviour.
Even after all of this, I do see an increase in the numbers of my constituents engaging in the election. More and more of them are out helping their local candidates, leafleting, and canvassing. They now believe some political parties are finally offering a benefit to them directly. This time, not all politicians are just diagnosing but actually proving they can cure it.
According to the evidence compiled at the London School of Economics, turnout among young people aged 18 to 24 in the EU referendum was almost double the level that has been widely reported since polling day. This was the highest turnout for this age group since the 1990s. Young people once again proved that they are passionate and want to make a difference.
Now when the UK is triggering Article 50 and will be making decision that will change our future forever, I believe young people deserve a say in the Brexit negotiation. After all we are the generation that will live the longest with the outcomes of this. We want government to show us the best deal for all young people. We want them to prove us where the funding for university degrees and research placement that came from the EU will come from. We want a say in where the UK invests money after we have left the EU, as we will no longer be paying into the European Union. It is the time to involve us not leave us out in this key and crucial decision!
Young people live and breathe social media, from snapchatting their friends to updating their status on Facebook. Most of the interactions are harmless, friends sharing good times, but knowing what hides behind the scenes of social media interactions is essential. In this ever evolving technological world we need to understand exactly what young people are facing in the current climate of the new world of social media and how vulnerable this can potentially make our younger generation.
Through the power of services like youth work, supporting young people could be the key to helping them face the issues that trouble them the most. This could be anything from cyberbullying and social media trolls to a deeper darker side of the internet involved with child grooming and sexual exploitation. Only yesterday did I stumble across the codes young people use in online chat so their parents are unaware of what is happening. These codes include: LMIRL (let’s meet in real life), CU46 (see you for sex), WTTP (want to trade pictures), KYS (kill yourself) plus many others. But now is the time to find a safe way for the younger generation to enjoy the internet but be protected from potential risks. Media such as Facebook and Twitter should invest more in developing software which highlights when unpleasant events happen during interactions between profiles, to the exchange of unsavoury photographs shared from a young person’s profile.
This election I urge politicians to fight for young people and their online safety, help them develop through supported networks and channels, enable them to have a safe community hub to attend when they need someone to talk to, who they can view as a friendly help rather than someone of authority. A community hub should be a safe place, close to home that young people can access for free with communal Wi-fi, interactive workshops plus a cool place to be with their friends. Even offer sexual health advice and consent discussions. It’s about time the way young people access help and advice is revolutionised. Through this channel of communication, youth workers and services will be able to highlight potential issues and help young people solve them in an approachable way.
Being young should be about discovering who you are, spending time with friends, being free and careless. The transition from adolescent to adult is an exciting yet challenging time, as you are maturing, gaining qualifications, seeking employment, studying maybe looking for the next opportunity on the horizon. No one should have to worry when the next threatening text is coming, or what will happen if their latest snapchat isn’t on ‘fleek’.
It’s time for the younger generation to be empowered and become whoever they want to be! #NoFilter
Democracy is one of the most wonderful things in this world as it allows people to have a voice in choosing who should govern their country. Many people around the world still don’t have this privilege and I am thankful that I do.
As I am able to vote and so are thousands of young people, it’s important that politicians listen and engage with young people. Young people can also engage by campaigning for the parliamentary candidate they support. I do believe it’s a two-sided effort as young people need to make an effort to raise the issues important to them with politicians and equally for politicians reaching out to young people and hearing them out when they have an issue that needs addressing.
An issue that has gained a lot of support from many people so far as it needs to be improved is the access and quality of mental health services. The priority of ‘Our Minds Matter’ aims to do this and it’s something that needs to be addressed at different levels especially on a national level where it can potentially have the most impact. As a member of the NHS Youth Forum this is something that I feel really passionately about. We have been focusing on young people’s rights in healthcare, ensuring that young people know that they have rights and that healthcare professionals recognise and respect those rights. This is crucial within mental health provision for young people. We have created a series of posters on your rights in healthcare and we want all health settings to display these posters and to respect and listen to young people.
Want to get involved?
On June 8th, it is crucial that young people head to the polling station and cast their vote in the General Election. Whatever changes are being implemented now, they will affect our generation – young people – more than they will ever affect the politicians implementing them. This election in particular is extremely important, since the next Parliament will be shaping a post-Brexit Britain. Therefore, we must ensure our interests are represented and considered when conducting negotiations.
Moreover, a high turnout of 18-24 year olds will put young people’s issues on the political agenda. Once we turn out to vote, we send the message that young people are engaged, aware and want to influence their future. We will have to be heard by decision makers.
A significant issue that I am very passionate to see the next Parliament implement is a real national living wage, for young people. This is a key issue for my generation, since the minimum wage for under 25’s is lower than for those over 25. The Real Living Wage is an hourly rate of pay, calculated independently that reflects the cost of living in the UK. It is set as £8.45 across the UK with the exception of £9.75 in London. However, the government’s current living wage falls short of the real living wage by a considerable margin, and is only £7.05 for under 25’s. This is not good enough. Young people across the UK should be afforded the right to earn a wage that enables them to live.
What’s more is that young people can be paid less than their older counterparts for the same job, same hours and same work! This needs to change, as the assumption that young people don’t need as much as over 25’s to live is absurd. A real national living wage for young people has been a key issue that young people raised and was our national priority campaign following over 200k votes in our Make your Mark consultation in 2015.
I hope that the next Parliament will make this a priority and start a dialogue with young people in shaping the future of their country.
If you were to google ‘millennials are’, the words that come after are not inspiring; ‘lazy’, ‘stupid’ or ‘screwed’. This isn’t by chance, it’s part of a wider narrative.
My generation – those who are currently under 25 – are constantly undervalued and undermined.
We’re seen as selfish and entitled, bone-idle and boorish.
Nothing could be further from the truth – young people care. We care about our families and our friends, our schools and hospitals. We care about our future employment and the future of the earth.
Why are we not listened to, or taken seriously?
The first answer is very simple – often our legitimate voices are taken away from us. It simply makes no sense not to enfranchise 16 and 17 year-olds.
The Scottish Referendum showed us that 16 and 17 year-olds will make their views heard if given the opportunity and that all votes are equal to others.
The idea that you can work, pay taxes, marry or die for your country but can’t vote for the people who make those decisions – based on arguments that have essentially boiled down to mental capability and societal norms – is obviously nonsense.
They’re the same arguments that were used to not extend the vote to women and BME communities, many years ago.
We would urge the next government to extend this long denied right, which is quickly becoming a consensus opinion.
This could be the first step of many in making politics accessible to young people – electoral reform, localism, greater representation for young people and digitising our democracy would all give voice to those who are currently voiceless.
The second is that it’s far too easy to ignore us, even when we turn up. Brexit being the prime example. 70% of young people voted Remain, and were outvoted by older generations who won’t have to see the long-term consequences.
Which was an act of democracy, which we respect. What we cannot respect is the systematic undermining of the voices of young people over the single most important issue of the next 10 years. Education funding, Erasmus Plus, free movement, employment and jobs will be shaped for generations to come without input from the generation that it will come down on.
We would urge the next government to involve young people in the future of Brexit as soon as possible.
This will be the shape of the next five years, and a priority for the Government. There are opportunities in Brexit, as well as risks – A Brexit that puts young people’s futures at risk is not a Brexit we can get behind. Young people need to be able to travel to work and study, to share with different cultures and to have clean air to breath.
One clear ask of the next government – give young people the voice we deserve.
Because if you give young people the power over our futures – we won’t just change a Google search term – we’ll change the world.