Everyone’s talking about young people.
Most of it is bad news.
Young people are, depending on the source, too nice for our own good, morally immature, useless, or informed and powerful.
Turns out you can make young people suit your story pretty easily.
For the UK’s young people, when you look at statistics, our lot do not make pleasant reading.
We are one of the most likely groups to suffer from the COVID-19 economy, the Institute for Fiscal Studies places workers under 25 at approximately two and a half times as likely to work in a sector forced to suspend business. ‘Is Wales Fairer?’ (2015) paints a bleak picture for young people in Wales – young people are “significantly worse off in many ways, including income, employment, poverty, housing, and access to mental health services”. We are under more pressure – Ipsos MORI’s 2018 report on Generation Z says 60% of 16 to 22-year-olds feel pressure to prosper and be successful, compared with only a third of baby boomers (55-75-year-olds). To round off this ‘happy’ picture – according to the Prince’s Trust Youth Index report 2019‘, young people’s well-being is at its lowest ebb since the study was first commissioned. The second lowest rating was found in 2018. Young people across the UK are facing unequal voting opportunities depending on where they live. From next month, young people in Wales will be able to vote, joining their peers in Scotland. Still 16 and 17-year-olds in England and Northern Ireland are denied this opportunity.
Today the British Youth Council, with the Votes at 16 Coalition are calling for equal voting rights for all 16 and 17-year-olds across the UK.
Change happens in a multitude of ways.
One way is definitely community action – young people uniting to defend issues that matter to them. You’ll have seen huge youth protests on gun control in America, and climate change across the world. Community action and youth protest is always happening in Wales, the brilliant youth-led grant panels funded over £100k worth of projects, and Welsh young people have been at the forefront of period poverty action. Many youth organisations across the UK have pressed forward with exciting youth-led projects, making a difference by young people for young people.
The British Youth Council have been surveying young people across the UK for years – our latest Make Your Mark saw 838,288 young people cast votes on what matters to them, supported by over a thousand schools, colleges and youth organisations.
In the top three UK issues in 2019?
Votes at 16.
In the top three devolved issues in 2019?
A Curriculum for Life.
In Make your Mark’s history, the two issues that have re-occurred each year have been Votes at 16 and a Curriculum for Life.
One would think that’s a pretty clear mandate from a huge swathe of the UK’s young people. Young people want opportunities in their schools and colleges to learn about and engage with local and national democracy. They want to put this into practice at the ballot box.
“Give a person a vote, they’ll vote for a day, teach a person why to vote, they’ll vote for life”?
That’s not quite the quote.
But the principle is there. All the evidence points to habits setting precedents for life. In Wales right now we’re looking at how active citizenship at a young age steers a future of active citizenship. Who’s to dispute the same isn’t true for voting? Teaching young people about local and national democracy benefits everyone. Even the 1924 Geneva declaration on the Rights of the Child includes the right to an upbringing that instills social consciousness and duty – I would argue that without a curriculum for life, we are failing our young people.
Young people are fed up of being talked about, not engaged with.
Many 16 & 17-year-olds work. Many pay taxes. And dependent on where they live in the UK, they may have the right to vote in local and national elections. We call for equal voting rights at 16 in the UK.
Young people are fed up of being under-paid, under-supported, and voiceless. It is unjust that, in the great age of human communication, with more ways to get heard than ever, 16 & 17-year-olds are being ignored in the fundamental expression of democracy.
Extend the suffrage, give young people the chance to have their say at the ballot box, and let us have Votes At 16.