The Electoral Reform Society has today released a report damning the 2018 Voter ID pilots as ‘a sledgehammer to crack a nut’. At this year’s local elections five areas trialled different forms of ID requirements as a measure to prevent voter fraud. However, as highlighted by the report, in a single day across the five councils twice as many people didn’t vote due to having incorrect ID as have been accused of personation, the type of fraud that ID prevents, in eight years across the whole of the UK.
The British Youth Council is among many voluntary and community sector organisations who have already raised concerns about the impact of Voter ID on the participation of marginalised communities across the UK. Evaluations have shown that those in lower socio-economic groups and younger voters were less likely to know about the ID requirements. The Windrush scandal this year has highlighted the difficulties that some legitimate voters could have in accessing identity documents. In the UK we do not have a universal and free form of photographic ID, meaning that there are financial barriers to providing photographic ID, and additional hoops to step through to gain a free locally accepted ID.
“Throughout history, the power of the vote and, equal access to voting, is something that so many have fought for – with young people being some of those who continue that battle to this day,” says British Youth Council Trustee Larissa Kennedy. “It seems oxymoronic that, in the year that we are celebrating the centenary of the extension of the franchise to some women, and 90 years since the vote was extended to all women and men over 21, that we are simultaneously putting barriers in the way of people accessing their vote.”
At the recent full Council meeting of the British Youth Council, a motion opposing the introduction of voter ID was passed by the membership, calling on the Government to reconsider the current approach and to look at different solutions that are proportionate to the actual risk posed by voter fraud, and calling on the Electoral Commission to examine the impact of voter ID trials on marginalised communities, including young people, to ensure that the impacts are not disproportionately felt by those communities.
“We heard from young people in one of the pilot areas that they were left feeling that only the smart and well educated would be voting’,” said Anna Rose Barker, Chair of the British Youth Council. “Democratic participation is a crucial responsibility of every member of society and attempts to deal with voter fraud must not disproportionately harm access to democracy. In the 2017 UK Parliamentary elections, 13 seats were won with a majority less than the number of people denied a vote in Bromley. The introduction of voter ID has a huge potential to swing the outcome of elections, reducing the voice of those already marginalised from the democratic process and creating a greater sense of disillusionment with the democratic process.”
The British Youth Council believes that the right to vote of young people and other marginalised communities must be protected. We will continue to stand alongside the Electoral Reform Society and other voluntary and community sector organisations to call for the voices of the marginalised to be heard and to remove barriers to democratic participation.
The Children’s Commissioner for England, Anne Longfield, has launched a new report, ‘Life in Likes’, on the impact of social media on the lives of children before they become teenagers. Today’s report reveals many children are approaching a ‘cliff edge’ as they transition from primary to secondary school, with social media becoming much more important in their lives but causing them greater anxiety. The study suggests some children are becoming almost addicted to ‘likes’ as a form of social validation that makes them happy and that many are increasingly anxious about their online image and ‘keeping up appearances’.
The British Youth Council welcome the report and its recommendations which echo the Youth Select Committee report launched in November 2017 on young people and body image. ‘A Body Confident Future’ was published following an inquiry which gathered evidence from a range of witnesses, including charities, young people, academics, social media companies, and health and education professionals.
Anna Rose Barker, Chair of the British Youth Council said: “We welcome the research undertaken by the Children’s Commissioner into the impact of social media on children. Our own research through the Youth Select Committee highlighted that body dissatisfaction is the norm amongst young people in the UK. Social media can have both positive and negative impacts on body image, and whilst social media companies have taken some steps to mitigate the negative effects there is still more that can be done.
“It is good to see that the recommendations outlined in ‘Life in Likes’ reinforce the recommendations from the Youth Select Committee, specifically in calling for increased digital and media literacy within formal education, more support for teachers to understand the impact of social media on well being, and for social media companies to take more responsibility for the content on their platforms. We hope that this reinforces the need for action to protect children and young people.”
The Youth Select Committee report recommendations have been submitted to the Government for response, which is expected within the next few weeks.
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.