The Votes at 16 All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) has released
a campaign report to mark one year since the group was established at the
APPG’s AGM tonight, Tuesday 2nd April.
The report draws together evidence gathered by the all-party group throughout its first year, with contributions from parliamentarians from across the political spectrum, academics, youth organisations, campaigners and think tanks.
Speakers at the launch event, responding to the report, will include a Member of the UK Youth Parliament and Cat Smith MP, Shadow Minister for Voter Engagement and Youth Affairs.
Danielle Rowley MP, Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Votes at 16 said: “This report makes the clear and compelling case that it is time for votes at 16. We live in turbulent political times and the diverse insights of young people will be as important as ever in helping to chart a way forward. The mobilisation of young people on issues from Brexit to Climate Change shows just how much we are losing out by not recognising their views at the ballot box.
“The Government must listen to the growing calls from voices in all political parties, including their own, that the time to act is now.”
Sir Peter Bottomley MP, Treasurer of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Votes at 16 said: “If we are in favour of the average new voter taking part in a national election aged 18, to achieve this, voting eligibility needs to be 16.”
“My appeal to Conservatives, the Government and supporters of other parties who oppose this is not to approach this issue with calculations of party advantage.”
“The United Kingdom’s democratic story is more important than party advantage.”
Commenting on the report, Amanda Chetwynd-Cowieson, Chair of the British Youth Council, the secretariat for the all-party group said: “The argument for lowering the voting age to 16 continues to get greater! The Government continue to ignore the request for votes at 16 but we know there are no credible arguments against lowering the age when we allow 16 and 17 year old the chance to vote in some elections already.”
Support for a lower voting age has increased over the last 20 years with politicians from across the political spectrum announcing their support for a lower voting age. 16 and 17 year olds are allowed to vote in the Scottish Parliamentary elections and Scottish Local Council elections and are due to get a vote in the Welsh local elections, making it harder to deny an extension to the franchise in all elections. Votes at 16 has been a long-standing campaign for Members of Youth Parliament with the issue topping the youth agenda on five occasions since 2011 in the Make Your Mark ballot.
The British Youth Council has been saddened by recent protests and discourse in the media suggesting relationships and sex education shouldn’t be inclusive of LGBT+ people. The British Youth Council have a long-standing belief that all schools should provide education to young people that is inclusive of the LGBT+ community.
We welcome the Government’s commitment to a LGBT-inclusive curriculum in both primary and secondary schools. It should be recognised that education which precludes LGBT+ identities puts young people up and down the country at higher risk of mental and physical harm.
LGBT+ students still require the necessary support other students are afforded, disregarding some young people puts them at risk unnecessarily. We call on the government and Department of Education to make LGBT+ inclusive education mandatory in all schools without exception, and we call on Ofsted to make sure homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying is being treated seriously by schools across the UK.
Responding to recent reports in the media, Lewis Addlington-Lee, Deputy Chair of the British Youth Council said: “We believe in defending, promoting, and advocating for the rights of the LGBT+ Community in the UK and internationally.
“It’s upsetting to hear about the sustained opposition from a minority but we must recognise the importance of a curriculum which is inclusive. All schools across the country should be teaching relationship and sex education in a way which is inclusive of the LGBT+ community without exception.
“Children should be able to learn about all types of identities and relationships from a young age so this institutionalised discrimination can be brought to an end.”
The British Youth Council have backed calls for new measures to be introduced to protect young social media users from health harms. Members of Parliament have called for the changes in a new report published by the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Social Media and Young People’s Mental Health and Wellbeing.
The report calls for all social media companies with registered UK users aged 24 and under in the form of a statutory code of conduct regulated by Ofcom. The inquiry found pressure to conform to beauty standards perpetuated and praised online can encourage harmful behaviours to achieve “results”, including body shame and disordered eating, with 46% of girls compared to 38% of all young people reporting social media has a negative impacted on their self-esteem. Children who spend more than three hours a day using social media are twice as likely to display symptoms of mental ill health according to the research carried out.
The British Youth Council’s Youth Select Committee examined the impact social media was having on young people’s body image in 2017. Following the investigation, the committee concluded body dissatisfaction was causing long-lasting consequences for young people. The committee recommended minimum standards for social media companies should be introduced to mitigate the issue.
Amanda Chetwynd-Cowieson, Chair of the British Youth Council said: “Since the Youth Select Committee’s inquiry in 2017, which examined the impact social media was having on young people’s body image, it is clear the Government have not done enough to hold social media companies to account and as a result young people are still suffering.
“The Government must act to protect the mental health and wellbeing of young people.”
Evidence for the Youth Select Committee’s report on body image was gathered from a range of expert witnesses, including high-profile bloggers, social media companies, academics, teachers and mental health professionals.
Local projects have been recognised in the British Youth Council’s Youth Voice Star Awards. The awards celebrate the breadth and diversity of local work happening across the UK to promote young people’s voices.
The celebratory ceremony, which took place in London, was a chance to recognise the youth workers who make it happen, the change makers that champion young people, the organisations that give a platform to youth voice, and projects doing things differently to address local and national issues.
Amanda Chetwynd-Cowieson, Chair, British Youth Council said: “It really is inspiring to see some many people are working hard to promote the voices of young people.
“Young people continue to lobby for change on the issues that matter to them. It’s absolutely imperative we recognise those young people, the organisations behind them and the staff – who often work with limited resources – to make sure young people can influence decision makers regardless.”
The following awards were announced:
Award for Personal Development:
Jessica Griffiths from Kent
Celebrating Diversity Award:
BYOU in Wigan
BYOU are an LGBTQ support and Action group, BYOU
Young Campaigner of the Year:
Adam Shaikh from Sandwell
Adam Shaikh is 21 years old and the former Youth Commissioner of Sandwell and Chair of SHAPE Youth Forum. After going through childhood and adolescence with a painful past, Adam joined
Youth Led Project Award:
Bright Minds Big Futures in Stockton
In 2017 Stockton-on-Tees Borough Council made a pledge to put young people at the heart of all that we do and work together with children and young people to make the Borough a great place to grow up. In March 2017 a Coordinator was appointed to make this a reality. Without a budget, clear concept and objectives the task began. They worked from the ground up, ensuring that young people were there from the beginning to lead on the direction of travel and fully develop and implement the initiative.
Youth Voice Champion:
Tim Taylor Director of Customer
Services at South Yorkshire Passenger Transport Executive
Tim Taylor has worked tirelessly to improve the experience of young people on public transport in South Yorkshire. He was central to the formation of the South Yorkshire Young People’s User Group in which youth representatives from across the region meet several times a year with transport operators and decision makers to raise and challenge issues and policies on transport.
Youth Voice Worker of the Year:
Sarah Bellamy, from Rotherham
Sarah Bellamy has worked with young people for over 15 years, working tirelessly to support children and young people. “Sarah is best thing that I have got from youth voice. She is the most important person in my life after my family and I don’t know how I’m going to live without her in my life. She is superhuman.”
The British Youth Council’s Youth Select Committee has received an official response from the UK Government on work experience. The response follows an extensive investigation into the barriers faced by young people across the country in accessing quality work experience. The Government have acknowledged its role in ‘preparing students for adult life’ and the importance of work experience but make no concrete commitments to address the concerns highlighted by the committee.
The British Youth Council were disappointed to learn that the response from the Department for Education contained ambiguous answers to many of the recommendations made by the Youth Select Committee. In November 2018, the committee ruled that the Government needed to take action on ‘unequal’ work experience opportunities.
Within the response, which answers each of the recommendations made by the committee, the Government state ‘every pupil should have first-hand experiences of the workplace’. However, the Government refused to make a firm commitment to commission further research on the quality work experience, stating they would only ‘look carefully’ at how they can improve their evidence base.
The Government also recognise more can be done to build on the work so far to encourage businesses of all sizes and across all sectors to offer young people experiences of the workplace. Despite this, the Government give the committee no assurances on how this will be improved.
The committee did welcome the Government’s plan to undertake further work to understand whether there is value in dedicating a section of the National Careers Service website to work experience. We were also pleased to hear the Government intend to involve young people in the design and testing of any new resources and services.
Claudia Quinn, Chair of the Youth Select Committee, from Liverpool said: “The Youth Select Committee were disappointed to learn that the Government accept their role in preparing students for adult life and the importance of work experience but make no concrete commitments to address the concerns highlighted by the committee’s extensive inquiry.
“The Government need to take steps to address the patchy, unequal nature of young people’s access to work experience and this response doesn’t take into account the very real concerns we’ve brought to their attention.
“We were, however, pleased with the Government’s commitment to involve young people in the design and testing of any National Careers Services’ new resources and services. Young people should be consulted on things that impact them and we’re excited to hear the Government have acknowledged this.”
The Youth Select Committee, who were aged 13-18, included Members of the Youth Parliament, Youth Councillors, a Youth Mayor and representatives from each of the devolved nations. This year’s committee will examine different aspects of the widely reported knife crime epidemic.
UK Youth Parliament have launched their campaign, ‘Action Against Knife Crime’, which calls for a significant reduction in knife crime across the UK. 1.1 million young people declared knife crime a top concern in the UK Youth Parliament’s Make Your Mark ballot. The organisation will also reignite its long-standing campaign for a lower voting age of 16.
The anti-knife crime campaign aims to highlight the prevalence of knife crime, which claimed the lives of 37 children and young people in England & Wales last year. ‘Action Against Knife Crime’, which was prioritised at the UK Youth Parliament’s House of Commons Sitting, demands the Government combat violence through education in schools and community groups. UK Youth Parliament are working in partnership ‘No Knives, Better Lives’, a national programme in Scotland that aims to deter young people from carrying knives, to deliver the campaign.
Commenting on the partnership, Emily Beever, Senior Development Officer at YouthLink Scotland, the charity which coordinates ‘No Knives, Better Lives’ said: “We are really excited to be working in partnership with the British Youth Council on their Action Against Knife Crime campaign.
“No Knives, Better Lives has been working to prevent knife crime in Scotland for nearly 10 years and from our experience, we know young people are passionate about making change in their communities and stopping knife crime.“
“It will be amazing to see Members of Youth Parliament up and down the country engaging with this campaign and influencing decision makers.”
Members of Youth Parliament are also calling for the Government to review its current approach, after failed attempts to use increased stop and search to address the issue. In November 2018, the Centre for Crime and Justice published research concluding stop and search had no real impact on reducing knife crime.
UK Youth Parliament have backed Youth Violence Commission’s calls for the Government to adopt a public health approach. The World Health Organisation has also concluded a public heath approach is necessary to combat the multifactorial causes of violence. WHO reiterate the need for ‘collective action’ and acknowledge “violence of all sorts is strongly associated with social determinants”.
Busayo Oyedoyin, Member of Youth Parliament for Hackney, who has been campaigning on the issue said “Mental and physical health, education, youth services, social media and community outreach must be prioritised in order to tackle the issues underpinning knife crime.
“We believe knife crime must be categorised as a public health issue. This approach would allow different agencies and services to come together to tackle the issue properly. The Government must do everything in its power to address this issue promptly.”
The campaign has already captured the support of Members of UK Parliament from across the House of Commons. Members of Youth Parliament are due to meet with their local MPs over the coming weeks in an attempt to drive further change through UK Parliament.
UK Youth Parliament reignite demands for a new age for democracy
Members of Youth Parliament will continue their efforts to bring about a lower voting age of 16. Members of Youth Parliament voted to prioritise the campaign at their November sitting in the House of Commons.
The demand for votes at 16 has been a reoccurring issue since 2003. In the UK Youth Parliament’s ballot of young people, the issue has been one of the top issues of 5 occasions since the annual poll launched in 2011. Members of Youth Parliament will be working to gain support from Local Authorities across the UK as a clear indication of increased support across the nations.
Alex McDermott, Member of Youth Parliament for Derbyshire said: “Over one million 16 and 17 year olds continue to be denied a vote in some elections and referenda.
“It seems unjustifiable that we haven’t seen parity across the UK since the introduction of votes at 16 in Scotland, looming plans for its introduction in Wales and growing support from across Parliament. I feel it may be time for the Government to concede that 16 and 17 year olds can no longer be denied the vote.”
The British Youth Council are calling on the Government and prominent campaigners to address the concerns of young people in any new Brexit negotiations or plans. The youth-led charity feels the voices and wishes of young people, in particular, have not reflected in Brexit negotiations up to this point. Therefore, we believe the best way to give young people a clear say on their future is to join the growing campaign, calling on the Government to deliver a People’s Vote on the final Brexit Deal.
A spokesperson for the British Youth Council said: “Young people’s voices are not being heard in the Brexit negotiations. It’s really imperative that the Government commit to listening to young people and their concerns moving forward.
“The British Youth Council also believe the Government should hold a People’s Vote on the final Brexit deal. This is the biggest political decision of our lifetime and we think its important young people have a clear say on our future.”
The call comes as yet more uncertainty looms over the future of the UK’s relationship with the European Union, with the Government’s proposed withdrawal agreement being voted down by Members of Parliament last week. The British Youth Council recognise that in 2016 the majority of young people voted to remain in the European Union. Young people were very concerned about employability prospects, opportunities for young people, threats to our education system and rising racism and fascism within our society.
The British Youth Council are keen to stress that young people care about their future and should have their issues discussed and addressed. We’ve also made it clear young people should be provided firm reassurance over their futures in the coming months. We believe that the rights of young European citizens living in the UK should be upheld in wake of the Brexit vote as they contribute so much to the UK. We’re joining calls for the government to ensure that the rights of young EU citizens, that have lived in the UK for over a year, to live work and study in the UK remain unchanged by negotiations with the EU.
The importance of maintaining funding opportunities, such as the Erasmus+ programme, has also been raised by British Youth Council members. Young people and youth organisations, both during the withdrawal negotiations and in the framework of the future relationship between the United Kingdom and the European Union, should have access to the same opportunities.
Three Members of Youth Parliament have been recognised for their powerful contributions to debates that took place in the House of Commons chamber on Friday 9th November 2018. Each Member of Youth Parliament will be awarded the Paul Boskett Award for their outstanding speeches.
The award was set up in 2014 in memory of Paul Boskett MBE a valued, respected and loved champion of young people’s voices in the UK. Alex McDermott, Member of Youth Parliament for Derbyshire won the award for his opening speech on votes at 16 from the dispatch box of the House of Commons. Cormac Savage, Member of Youth Parliament for South Down in Northern Ireland and Samuel Taylor, Member of Youth Parliament for Blaenau Gwent in Wales were awarded for their backbench contributions. Cormac Savage spoke passionately on tackling homelessness and Samuel Taylor spoke about lowering the voting age to 16.
Commenting on the awards, Amanda Chetwynd-Cowieson, Chair of the British Youth Council, the charity which coordinates the UK Youth Parliament said: “Every year the UK Youth Parliament’s House of Commons debates are exceptional and this year was no different.
“The passion on display in the chamber is yet more proof that young people are passionate about the future of their communities!”
On Friday 9th November 2018, Members of the UK Youth Parliament gathered from across the UK to debate in the House of Commons chamber. Ending knife crime, mental health, ‘equal pay, for equal work’, tackling homelessness and ‘votes at 16’ were all topics of debate. Each topic was chosen in a record-breaking ballot of more than 1.1 million young people. Members of Youth Parliament are due to formally launch their latest campaigns next week.
WATCH THEIR SPEECHES:
DEBATE LEAD SPEECH: Alex McDermott, Derbyshire
BACKBENCH SPEECH: Cormac Savage, South Down
BACKBENCH SPEECH: Sam Taylor, Blaenau Gwent