For the last few weeks the general public had the opportunity to get their voices heard by submitting questions to the daily Coronavirus press conference. This gives ordinary people the chance to hear expert scientific and medical advice on specific problems they are facing during this unprecedented time. There is, however, one thing which can exclude you from submitting a question: you must be over the age of 18.
Recently, Nadia Whittome MP, one of the British Youth Council’s Honorary Presidents, asked the government to explain why young people under 18 were excluded from submitting their questions. The government responded that giving these young people this opportunity would “require further processes and additional protections to ensure that privacy is protected.” In summary, it seems that the government is actively neglecting the voices of young people simply to avoid carrying out some further administrative work.
This is simply not good enough.
Throughout the COVID-19 crisis, young people have overwhelmingly followed government advice. Along with the rest of the country, they have sacrificed social events, experienced financial hardship, and missed out on seeing loved ones. Like everyone else they have stayed at home in order to protect the NHS and our other vital public services, adapting admirably quickly to life within this new normal. However, unlike everyone else, young people who are under 18 are being denied the important opportunity to speak directly to the government about the concerns that affect them most.
With schools closed, GCSEs and A Levels cancelled, and education more of a postcode lottery than ever before, now is the time for the government to engage with young people directly.
Excluding under-18s from these press conferences means that students are denied the opportunity to publicly question the government on alternative arrangements for schooling and exams, and the long term effects of these on employment and mental health. These young people are already facing huge levels of uncertainty. The government should at least allow them the chance to get the answers they so desperately need from the cabinet ministers handling the COVID-19 response.
Additionally, we are joining with other leading youth organisations to request that the Prime Minister hold a press conference specifically for young people. Recent surveys indicate 67% of young people are concerned about the effects of COVID-19 on their education and development, and 39% feel worried about their own mental wellbeing due to the pandemic. These concerns cannot be addressed without direct conversations with experts and ministers. By giving young people their own press conference and by allowing under 18s to submit questions to the daily press conference, the government could signal that it is listening to young people and giving them a meaningful say on the decisions that affect them.
The Chair of the British Youth Council, Amanda Chetwynd-Cowieson, who agrees, said: “Young people remain passionate about seeing social and political change for their communities, and now is not the time to ignore their voices.
“As the government continues to make unprecedented decisions that affect the lives of young people, the government must make attempts to speak directly with young people and address the issues that affect them.”
The British Youth Council firmly believes that in the midst of COVID-19 young people deserve to have answers to their questions.
We are asking the Government to ensure that young people under 18 across the UK can submit questions to the daily Coronavirus press conference and that the government endeavours to hold a young people’s press conference as soon as possible.