As she comes to the end of her term of office, outgoing Chair of the British Youth Council, Anna Rose Barker, shares her reflections and her commitment to youth voice in the UK.
It’s all too easy for the political agenda to overlook young people.
This means that the distribution of economic and political privilege leaves young people undervalued and without representative influence. However, it’s hugely important that our society hears and protects the opinions of young people. The experience of youth at any one point in time is not one that can ever be shared by older generations.
Every generation has their own experience of what it is to be young, but that is an experience only framed by the era and environment they were brought up. Our social, economic and political environment today is rich with opportunity with the potential for incredible change.
Youth voice matters! It matters in continuing to build coherent and fair societies. It matters to underrepresented opinions. Opinions which throughout history have been elevated by pro-active, idealistic and sometimes, justifiably angry young people. Young people matter now more than ever.
The last three years on the board and two years as Chair have been remarkable. We have achieved so much and we must not forget that. From appointing a new CEO; revising the entire governance structure of the organisation; building a new strategy and most importantly; we have fostered a positive, thoughtful and uncompromising culture that pushes the charity forward and holds it to account.
In concluding my tenure as Chair I think it’s valuable that we keep reminding ourselves why we’re involved with the British Youth Council and why youth voice matters.
To all young people, staff and supporters that will lead the British Youth Council for years to come, remember that the responsibility you have to our charity is multi-dimensional. It’s enormously important that the charity maintains the highest standard possible of fiduciary, legal and financial responsibility for future generations to benefit from our vision. But you also have another role. You will help set the pace of change across the country and you will represent our diverse, and very impressive membership base. Please don’t forget why you all got involved with the British Youth Council and why empowering youth voice and participation is so very crucial. You are the one’s to make this happen.
But before I go I want to make a promise to a charity that has shaped me so much:
I promise to always elevate the experiences of young people. I promise to ask and listen. I promise to hold dear the vision, mission and values of The British Youth Council.
On Monday 16th April 2018, Anna Barker, Chair of the British Youth Council addressed His Royal Highness Prince Henry of Wales, Damian Hinds, Secretary of State and delegates of the Commonwealth Youth Forum.
“Welcome everyone from all corners of the Commonwealth to London and welcome to the start of an unforgettable few days for us all!
“As mentioned, I am Chair of The British Youth Council and I am thrilled to be speaking at the opening of the Forum and to welcome you to this fantastic event.
“We’ve already had some fantastic speakers to kick of the next couple of days, and I don’t know about any of you but I am already excited. Before I start can I just get a good picture of who we are…
“Put your hand up if it’s your first time to the UK? First time to London? Have you set goals for what you want to achieve for your time here? For the young people you represent in your country, is mental health an issue? Is engaging with voting and the democratic process an issue? Is access to youth services beyond formal education important?
“That’s really interesting to see and immediately I can see that there are some cross-cutting themes for young people across the Commonwealth by using the top issues for young people in the UK as a simple benchmark. As a British young person, I can say I’ve had a wealth of opportunities, a fantastic education and have benefited from the open democracy that enabled progress. However, there is, as always, still more to be done! Young people here in the UK are passionate about improving mental health services and fighting the stigma, having the chance to vote in local and national elections at the age of 16, and for youth services to be strengthened to relieve pressure from schools and families and to ensure young people have holistic support and a wider access to opportunities.
“Around 17 years after The Commonwealth of Nations was formed, the British Youth Council was born. Since then we have been committed to empowering young people to make a difference in their lives and the society around them. Which is very similar to the values of this Forum. We will be focusing on impact, voice and sustainability throughout the next few years as a charity which mirrors the essence and themes for this year’s CHOGM – Prosperity, Security, Sustainability, and Fairness.
“So, to finish I would like to leave you with some sound advice to get you thinking about how you want the next few days to go, and what better person to turn to than my mum. Just like you, I work hard to represent young people and with that, we go along to meetings, conferences and even to media calls etc. Perhaps just like your friends and families aren’t quite sure what it all entails… Either way, she has 3 key pieces of advice:
“LISTEN – really truly listen to one another, build an understanding, empathy and common friendship. The relationships you build here could truly change your life and others around you. Ensure that you are actively listening to the speakers, your colleagues, the words that are spoken and importantly those that are not. This will give you the stimulus for ideas and conversations that could spark something incredible.
“BE AWKWARD – something Brits are very capable and experienced in… Look to your neighbour you are sat next to. Have you said hello yet? Have you chatted with someone you don’t know at all this morning? Put yourself out there, sit next to someone on their own at lunch, smile at someone in the next session, put up your hand to ask a question you might think to be ‘silly’. If we stretch our comfort to break out of our comfort zones, and I know this is awkward, we can meet new people and share brilliant thoughts and ideas.
“FUN! – Even though we are growing up, we should never stop having fun. Yes, of course, we should all set goals, have aspirations and work hard these few days. But do this with joy and light! Ensure that today and the days that follow, the weeks, months and years that follow beyond that are filled with passion, enjoyment, and meaning. Because then and only then can we bring others along this journey for a better world with us.
“Our theme is ‘Powering our Common Future’. Well… we are the Power, we are the Future and we are the Now. Let’s grab this opportunity with both hands and showcase the irreplaceable strength of young people across the Commonwealth and make it impossible for people to deny us a voice in shaping the future of our community.
“I wish you the most magical and meaningful experience during your stay here and I am thrilled and honoured to speak to such an inspiring group of international leaders. Thank you and have fun!”
Looking back at 2017 there have been some amazing moments for us, with our programmes growing from strength to strength, our campaigns reaching new heights and even winning awards for leadership and excellent governance. Our CEO, Jo Hobbs has not only survived a year with us, but she has led our organisation and wonderful staff team to raise the impact and aspirations of the British Youth Council and youth voice in the UK and internationally.
Young people have been front and centre of the news this year with a remarkable turnout in the snap election and the Votes at 16 campaign gaining support in the lead up to the Private Members Bill in Parliament. Brexit negotiations have continued and we have been at the heart of ensuring young people are consulted and represented in this.
One of our fantastic flagship programmes, UK Youth Parliament, saw another impressive year for Make Your Mark with almost million young people taking part yet again. The House of Commons debate highlighted the impressive campaigns and inspiring young people with Votes and 16 and A Curriculum For Life coming out on top.
Our Youth Voice Star Awards gave us a moment to stop and reflect on the astonishing people and projects across the UK that exist to give young people a voice, congratulations to all those nominated and those who won an award. I want to take this moment to thank all of the youth workers, staff members, supporters and funders at the British Youth Council but in other youth organisations too, for your time, support and belief in young people. Your work is often thankless and all-consuming, so thank you for your time and effort.
Looking forward to the future for the British Youth Council I am thrilled with what is to come. In the Spring, we will be launching our three-year strategy with our members, supporters and youth sector friends. It also marks the 70th year of our organisation! This deserves some celebration, so I can’t wait to re-engage with some of our members from across the years to rekindle our alumni engagement; and also, to look forward with the young people we work with now, to ensure the British Youth Council is best placed to look ahead into the next 70 years and represent young people.
Most importantly, I am excited to be working with other young people who are inspired and empowered to make a difference in their lives and the communities around them. Whether their passion is Brexit, transport, mental health, gender equality, LGBTQ+ rights or anything else – as the national youth council of the UK we will be supporting YOU to have a voice that so desperately needs to be empowered and heard.
On your 16th birthday you are legally deemed ‘mature enough’ to be able to undertake a multitude of responsibilities; these include joining the armed forces, paying taxes, changing your name, having sex or even getting married. This list goes on.
Importantly, young people don’t just care about youth issues. There is a perception that young people will naively vote for politicians that promise more youth clubs, lower drinking ages and similar themes. This is not the case. Yes young people care about the things that affect them, as do any age group, but they also see the bigger picture locally, nationally and internationally. They cite the refugee crisis, technological advancements and how to live in a global economy. Young people overwhelmingly have an optimistic outlook on the future, and thank goodness as by 2020 50% of the workforce will be millennials, pushing for a brighter and more prosperous world.
My next thought; if you don’t think young people are equipped enough to make this decision, instead of segregating them, try asking them what support and education they need. Votes at 16 is not a campaign that assumes giving 16 and 17 year olds the right to vote is the silver bullet to engagement across young people in politics. But, it could well be the start. Ask us what we want and need to know about our democracy and political structures, so we can educate each other and engage all member of society from an early age. The impact of this could be phenomenal.
So much of this focuses on whether young people are mature enough, informed enough or if they’ve had enough ‘life experience’ to form an opinion. When was the last time adults questioned their ability to form a rational opinion? The debate always leads to questioning young people and outing them under a moral microscope, yet we never ask the same question to older citizens. What is society doing to ensure everyone is receiving a fair and unbiased education on politics, democracy and voting?
If you are still unsure as to why young people’s voices matter I beg that you go and ask a young person what they think. Not just about school, youth clubs and youth issues; but about the economy, globalisation, jobs. And not just 16 and 17 year olds, ask a 12-year-old, even a 9 year old what they think. Ask them why they think this and how they formed this opinion, why they care and what experiences they have had so far. I guarantee that you will be shocked and pleasantly surprised at the thoughtfulness, the inquisitiveness, boldness and perhaps the shyness in their views.
What we need is a country that wholeheartedly supports and listens to young people, and Votes at 16 is a sharp step in the right direction to make this a reality.
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.
The next few weeks are going to be full of general election talk. We’ll hear many politicians make promises, targeting the segments of the electorate that they think will turn out to vote, which isn’t young people. Back in 2015, it was famously said that a politician with a spare hour to canvas should choose an old people’s home rather than a sixth form college. And we need to change this story.
As the national youth council for the UK, the British Youth Council will be championing the view of young people throughout this election campaign and demanding that Parliamentary Candidates talk to us, not about us. We have consulted extensively with young people about the key issues that are important to them in a general election and we are asking the political parties to tell us what they are going to do about these issues:
- A youth voice in Brexit – Young people will live with the consequences of Brexit for the longest and need to be a meaningful part of the process. We want a commitment to young people being at the heart of the negotiation process.
- 16: A new age for democracy – Over 1.5 million 16 and 17-year-olds are currently denied the right to vote. We want a commitment to give 16 and 17-year-olds the right to vote in all elections and referenda across the UK.
- Our minds matter – The Youth Select Committee on Mental Health found that young people’s mental health services do not have equality of funding with adult services. We want a commitment to improving the access to and quality of our mental health services.
- A real living wage for everyone – In April 2016 the government introduced a higher minimum wage rate for all staff over 25 years of age, although it doesn’t pay what people need to live. We want a commitment to equal pay for equal work, whatever your age and a wage that meets the cost of living.
- Save our youth services – Youth services have suffered as a result of financial cuts and restrictions. We want a commitment for existing youth services to have funding priority over new initiatives.
- Teach first aid in schools – First aiders can be the difference between life and death. We want a commitment to equip young people with the first aid skills to save lives, empowering them to become active citizens in their communities.
Over the next few weeks, we’ll be seeking a commitment from the main political parties on these issues as well as sharing a series of blogs from young people on this issues that are important to them in this General Election.
How you can get involved:
Over the past year, the British Youth Council along with numerous other leading youth organisations have been working hard to understand the views of young people in regards to exiting the EU. We have found that over 90% wanted to have a meaningful say in the Brexit negotiations and to ensure this is meaningful and not tokenistic.
Last week, that research started to make a difference as the British youth Council gathered a number of key organisations within the youth sector for a roundtable meeting with Government Ministers on how young people can shape this process.
The meeting was instigated after a letter from our former Chair, Jon Foster, was sent to Oliver Letwin MP, the then chief of temporary EU Unit at the Cabinet Office. The letter requested youth voices are heard in future negotiations. At the Annual Council Meeting, young people voted in a motion stating that voices of young people need to be represented in post-referendum negotiations on issues such as free movement and opportunities; as such, we felt it imperative to lead this position and take this demand to the heart of government.
The British Youth Council believes in putting young people at the heart of decision-making, so I along with other youth representatives met with the Government’s lead on youth policy, Rob Wilson MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and Robin Walker MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, at the Department for Exiting the EU to discuss the youth perspective but importantly the future youth involvement in Brexit. We want to see young people at the heart of the negotiation process, moving beyond consultation and into active participation.
We very much look forward to working with government, the youth sector and young people in the following months to make this a reality. We have the chance to shape the political engagement of a generation – now is the time to show young people and their voices make a difference!
In a speech yesterday at Lancaster House, Theresa May, Prime Minister, set out the Government’s Brexit plans in detail for the first time. Theresa May talked about the Brexit negotiations shaping a “brighter future” and a better Britain for future generations, and the British Youth Council believes that this can only happen if young people are a part of the process.
Are you interested in getting involved?
What a year 2016 had been for everyone. We have had enough elections, referendums and political bombshells to last us a few years. But… this is only the start.
Amidst all of the political and economic uncertainty, I am proud to say that young people across the world and in the UK have been a constant source of inspiration. The thoughts and actions of so many youths have inspired millions and I am looking forward to seeing what comes next.
To reflect on the year at the British Youth Council we have had enormous amounts of inspiring young people volunteering their time to make a difference In their communities. From the Votes at 16 galvanising support to the election of our new priority campaigns. UK Youth Parliament had a record breaking year with 978,216 votes cast in the Make Your Mark campaign. Then they went on to brilliantly debate these issues in the House of Commons with Votes at 16 coming out on top and Curriculum for Life for England. The youth select committees from this year and last produced amazing reports that have continued to impact formal and informal decision making. Our EU referendum voter drive and post result consultation has been an enormous success that will take us into the new year as a key theme.
Internally we have seen a new generation of leadership flourish as we say goodbye to the previous. James Cathcart spent nearly a decade leading this organisation so brilliantly; it was an honour to be the Chair to assist him saying goodbye. The journey with our new leader and CEO has been a roller coaster of energy, dynamism and impact. I am thrilled to be in a new phase for the organisation which is being led superbly by Jo Hobbs, in which we will see amazing things happen; all in the belief of youth voice and youth social action.
Thank you to everyone who made this year so special and impactful. A personal thanks has to go to all of the tireless staff, volunteers and workers in the sector, and at the British Youth Council. They all make it all possible for so many. I’m wishing you all a happy Christmas, new year and holiday.
What will 2017 bring? I’m not sure how it will play out, but I do know that the British Youth Council will be front and centre of representing the views of young people. We will do this through our programmes, strategic review and in supporting our membership to get their voices heard. We will be spearheading the fight to make the world around us a more fair, equal and just society for all. With that in mind, I can’t wait for 2017 to start.