There are so many uncertainties at the moment. How long until all young people are back in school? When will friends and families be reunited? What will our new normal be? One thing we do know, thanks to Girlguiding’s research surveying almost 7,000 girls and young women, is how the global pandemic is affecting the lives of girls across the UK.
Girls and young women are particularly concerned with how Coronavirus is affecting their well-being. The health of others is a significant cause for concern – 4 in 5 girls worry about someone else getting sick, much greater than the quarter who find themselves worrying about their own health. I think this speaks volumes for how compassionate young people are.
Thinking back to the start of the pandemic, I did not change my habits due to fear of catching the virus, but rather to protect others. The thought that my lifestyle (being very social, using public transport, travelling between cities) could result in making my grandparents ill, was distressing. Of course, it is natural to worry about loved ones, but when a dangerous, highly contagious disease gets thrown into the mix, low level concern is heightened and, sadly impacts on mental health.
Worries about school closures and what this means for education and grades are also at the forefront of girls’ minds. We know already from previous years’ Girls’ Attitudes Surveys that academic performance is a major worry for girls and young women. In 2019, nearly 60 % were worried that not doing well in exams would ruin future life opportunities, whilst only 1 in 5 received help and support to manage this stress. Now, over three quarters of girls say that uncertainty about school and education is negatively affecting their well-being, 70 % worry that they are falling behind at school, and a third feel anxious at the prospect of a teacher predicting their grades.
All at a time when young people have even lesser access to support networks of friends and teachers. I myself am in a ‘non-key’ year of my education, and still I have worried to no end about my results and what this may mean for my future. I can only imagine what it must feel like to be a school leaver, and to feel like so many years of hard work are down the drain.
So, after reading this, and the full research report, you may be thinking: What can I do? If you’re a young person, continue to voice your concerns, talk about your feelings, and demand to be listened to. Your worries are absolutely valid – do not let anyone try to tell you otherwise. If you’re an adult, please engage with any young people in your life – ask what you and other adults can do better, and advocate for young people’s inclusion in matters that affect them.
I feel so strongly that at this time it’s more important than ever for adults (whether parents, teachers, or decision makers) to engage directly with young people. Coronavirus has introduced an array of unprecedented difficulties into our lives, and for adults to assume they know how young people feel about this without actually asking us about our concerns, is insulting and damaging.
When we voice our concerns, we absolutely deserve to be listened to by those in power. That’s why Girlguiding called for the prime minister to deliver a young people’s press conference, and why we’re infuriated that under 18s cannot submit questions to the Government and advisors. It is also why I am thankful, as ever, to Girlguiding for making sure young people’s voices are heard, even in the midst of a global health crisis.
If I’m being honest, I had no idea what I was truly signing up for when I ran to be Chair of the British Youth Council just over two years ago. I was very clear that I wanted to do my bit in steering this important Charity forwards, and having already served a year as an ordinary trustee I was keen to take on more responsibility and be more involved. I’m a pretty organised and ambitious person, and I like doing my bit to build up the voices of others around me too. I was very prepared to be the voice that encourages all within the British Youth Council to reach that little bit higher, push ourselves that small bit further, and achieve something people thought we couldn’t. I won’t use this blog as an opportunity to try and predict what will come into the path of the next Chair (I got no more heads up than anyone else about the global pandemic!) but I’ll try and lay out some of the key principles and values that I humbly believe will ensure my successor succeeds.
This is perhaps one of the most varied roles I’ve ever been in – some weeks are very minimal whereas others defined by several key moments and decisions happening constantly one after the other. There’s a significant level of responsibility – you’re the public face of a national charity and one of the youngest elected National figures with that level of mandate – but there’s huge room for learning too. Your fellow trustees will almost certainly be the people who teach you the most about what it means to be a leader, and I truly believe leading by example is key – speaking out on behalf of the British Youth Council and young people when their voices aren’t included or their opinions not valued is a far too regular occurrence, but it’s a privilege to be able to speak out and important to do so.
You could be sat with a senior Government minister lobbying for more funding for a critical youth service on one day, then visiting one of the smallest youth groups in the country for a committee meeting the next. If you’re someone who would see both these events as important as each other – you could be a great chair. Some days will be spent working with our phenomenal staff team on the nitty-gritty details of how to make a vital new youth-led project or youth forum work, and that same week you might have to present to a room of other charity chairs about what makes our board different (and often, better). Being a team player and an ambassador are both vital, and as Chair, you get to learn how to be better at both throughout your tenure. You need to want to invest time into the trustee board – making sure meetings are effective decision-making spaces, ensuring everyone gets equal opportunity to be heard and thinking long term strategically about what the board needs to be doing.
The trustees are your main players – collectively you’re responsible for the British Youth Council’s strategy, finances, long term plan, and risk management – you need to be someone who can handle conversations with many opinions and steer people towards compromise and resolution. The staff team are brilliant and vital; you need to be happy to do your bit and makes events and programs a success, acknowledge when decisions are tough, and be prepared to be the person who makes the tough decisions.
Being Chair is brilliant, challenging, rewarding and educational all in one go. It’s intense, yes, but humbling too. You get two years to not only see the best of the best of what young people can achieve collectively and need to be the main person to make sure everything is working behind the scenes so that the British Youth Council can enable them too.
I’m fully prepared to admit that I did not expect to be planning my handover during a Global Pandemic and that the world we operate in now is a very different, and often quite a scary world, compared to one or two years ago. But one thing that hasn’t changed is the unwavering ability of our young activists, staff, member organisations and trustees to ensure that BYC is a vehicle for striving towards a world where every young person is empowered to have their say on the issues that affect them. As Chair – you could have the ultimate responsibility for helping the organisation achieve this.
As a non-binary person, and as a trustee of the British Youth Council, I welcome the support and safety that our organisation gives to young, trans people like me. As trustees, part of our responsibility to our charity is the commitment to defend our aims and interests, with a strong part of that being ensuring the implementation of our equal opportunities policy in all of our work.
The recent news suggesting that the Government has dropped its two-year commitment to reforming the Gender Recognition Act has been worrying. In a piece published on the front page of The Times on Sunday, the Government announced that, despite 70,000 (70%) of respondents writing in favor of reform in the consultation, the Government will not be adhering to their wishes.
The Gender Recognition Act reforms propose a number of ideas which will allow people like myself, and other trans people, the ability to live our lives safely. The reforms propose amending the Gender Recognition Act 2004, which at the time was a groundbreaking law, but now leaves us trailing behind many other countries in Europe and across the world. Reforming the Act will mean we will not have to pay costly amounts to access our healthcare – which is exclusionary to most young and working-class members of our community, and we would not have to wait years, sometimes decades, for the services we require. It would give, amongst other rights, easier routes to get trans identities legally recognised, and a recognition of non-binary identities in law. It would mean no evidence requirement of lived experience, as the current law depends on a diagnosis of Gender Dysphoria, which is a complex requirement with degrading and unnecessary barriers.
Proposed reforms also include the right to self-determination, including for 16 and 17 year olds, through a much simpler and more streamlined administrative process. At the British Youth Council, we have fought for the rights of 16 and 17 year olds to vote for nearly two decades because we understand that at 16, we have the ability to understand the decisions that affect us. By empowering young people in the trans community, we strengthen our commitment to our members, and the trans community across the country.
Before I started my first role in the British Youth Council five years ago – in the rural South West – I had never met someone like me. I am proud that our charity gives opportunities to meet people like ourselves in a welcoming environment, and the chance to learn from others. The British Youth Council has helped me to be out and proud. As someone tasked with guiding the future of our organisation, I would like our trans members, staff, and our allies to know that I am here for you, I see you, and our charity will continue to defend our rights across the country. We stand in solidarity with trans rights charities, and activists who are fighting for our recognition and safety in our country today, and in the future.
Small Charities Week may only be one week, but if Covid-19 has shown us anything, it’s that small charities play a fundamental, and often undervalued, role in our society fifty-two weeks of the year. The aim of small charity week is to raise the profile, reach and awareness of organisations that perhaps don’t have the recognition of larger counterparts, but in my experience, often have a greater impact on the young people who need them most. With that, I wanted to focus this blog on a couple of small charities I know of, who could do with our support both now, and crucially, in the long term.
Kids of Colour are a pioneering small charity providing a platform for young people of colour to explore race, identity and culture and challenge the everyday, institutionalised racism that shapes their lives. In particular, their YouTube channel is a brilliant platform full of informative and moving stories from the kids themselves about their experiences.
The Damilola Taylor Trust is committed to providing inner-city youths with opportunities to play, learn and live their lives free of fear and violence, and with optimism for a future where opportunities flourish. Small charities like the Damilola Taylor Trust are more vital than ever. At a time when almost every single aspect of children’s lives have been turned upside down, we can’t continue to underinvest in their futures and risk an increase in crime affecting young people. I think we could all agree that everyone, regardless of age, could do with a bit of hope for young people right now.
And last, but definitely not least, the British Youth Council! I spoke last year about how many people are often surprised to find out that the British Youth Council is a small charity. I couldn’t be more proud and thankful for our wonderful staff team and trustees in making sure that young people’s voices are being meaningfully heard on the issues that matter to them, even throughout a global pandemic. A brilliant example; half way through writing this blog, the Bank of England shared a video of our Youth Forum members giving the feedback of over 900 young people’s Covid-19 related concerns directly to the Chief Economist. It would be so easy for institutions like the Bank of England to say that there is simply too much on for them at this time, and that a youth forum unfortunately is not a priority. Small charities like the British Youth Council making partnerships like this, will have a significant and positive impact on young people’s futures.
It is through ambitious, game-changing, and youth-led projects, like the ones mentioned above, that small charities like the British Youth Council are going to be so important over the next few months as we define our new normal. In the face of Covid-19, it’s been small charities who have excelled and shown what many of us already knew; it is often smaller charities who hold the fabric of our local communities and young people’s lives together. What we need is for society to champion our work and support us in any way possible.
On Sunday 26th April, a number of our supporters took part in a nationwide initiative, the 2.6 Challenge, to raise funds for the British Youth Council. Following the outbreak of Coronavirus and its devastating impact on the charity sector, the organisers of the London Marathon decided to put together a campaign which could help individual charities, and the sector as a whole.
The campaign called on people across the UK to complete a challenge based around the figures 2.6 or 26 from their homes or in their local area. It was an opportunity for charities like us to make up the income that would have been lost due to cancelled fundraising events. People were able to sponsor those who took on challenges and also donate straight to the charity.
Our CEO Jo Hobbs climbed 26 floors of the stairs in her flat, raising an amazing £228, whilst our trustees ran a marathon between them to raise a further £653. We also received some significant gifts from a number of supporters, and altogether raised £2,001 with gift aid – a brilliant amount for a day of fundraising!
Joe Stockley, one of our trustees involved in the marathon run, said of his involvement in the challenge, “I wanted to get involved to help the British Youth Council with fundraising because I know first-hand how important the work the British Youth Council do every day is, for the young people they support and champion. Due to Coronavirus, it’s really hard for charities right now, and I wanted to do my bit as a trustee to support the organisation, so it can still be empowering young people in ten years time.”
We want to say a huge thank you to everyone who took part in the 2.6 Challenge for us and also everyone who gave either through sponsorship or as a donation the initiative! Your support at this challenging time means more than ever and ensures we can continue to empower young people with online delivery of our services and programmes.
The outstanding support of our British Youth Council community during this time has been truly amazing and we really are so grateful – thank you!
Aiyana Stanley-Jones was 7 years old when she was shot by police in Detroit, USA while sleeping. Her life mattered. Tamir Rice was 12 when he was playing with a toy gun and was shot by police in Ohio, USA. His life mattered. João Pedro Matos Pinto was 14 when he was shot during a police raid in Rio de Janiero, Brazil. His life mattered. Seni Lewis was 23 when he voluntarily sought mental health support and was restrained by up to 11 police officers in London, UK for over 30 minutes he died. His life mattered. Anti-Black police brutality taking Black lives, including Black children and young people’s lives, is a global pandemic that people have created, and have the power to stop.
At the British Youth Council, we unequivocally support the movement for Black lives, and are proud to see youth-led organising against anti-Black racism here in the UK, and around the world. Young people are, so often, at the helm of challenging injustice and fundamentally reimagining the systems and structures that not only allow, but create, these injustices. I wanted to share some of this transformative work with you – please read about their work and their visions for a different world, learn more about anti-Blackness, anti-racism, and what liberation for Black lives really means.
The 4Front Project, UK
The 4Front Project was founded by Temi Mwale in 2012 after her childhood friend, Marvin Henry, 17, was shot dead in October 2010. It is a member-led youth organisation empowering young people and communities to fight for justice, peace and freedom.
In seeking justice, the project mobilises those most affected by injustice, exposes structural injustice and builds transformative justice practices. Their work for peace advocates for approaches that increase safety, build community accountability and support members to heal, promoting radical self-care. And in moving towards freedom, the project builds pride in cultural identity, creates space to envision freedom and provides anti-oppression and liberation education.
Dream Defenders, USA
The Dream Defenders was founded in April 2012 after the tragic killing of 17-year old Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman in Sanford, Florida. That Spring, young Black, Latinx, and Arab youth marched from Daytona Beach Florida to Sanford Florida where Trayvon Martin was killed. With that fire in their bellies, they then went back to their communities and campuses to organise.
Today, they continue to build power in their communities to advance a new vision they have for the state. Their agenda is called the Freedom Papers. Through it, they are advancing their vision of safety and security – away from policing, prisons, surveillance, punishment, deportation, and war – and towards healthcare, housing, jobs and movement for all.
Black Liberation Collective, Canada
This is a collective of Black students who are dedicated to transforming institutions of higher education through unity, coalition building, direct action and political education. They have three national demands which represent collective efforts by Black students to address widespread institutional inequity: firstly, at the minimum, Black students and Black faculty to be reflected by the national percentage of Black folk in the country, secondly, free tuition for Black and indigenous students, and, finally, a divestment from prisons and investment in communities.
They have created a prison divestment toolkit for campus organisers across Canada, which provides practical steps towards decarceration, reparation and liberation. These student-led efforts are crucial to addressing larger systemic issues, and serve as a catalyst to dismantle institutions that promote and engage in anti-Blackness.
These are but a few examples of youth-led efforts to end the global pandemic of anti-Black police brutality. I hope they inspire you to turn your rage and sadness for the deeply tragic loss of Black lives into action so that we can reimagine and change our world for the better. Because yesterday, today, and always, Black Lives Matter.
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.
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.