In October 2020, I was elected as a UK Young Ambassador and Representative of the British Youth Council at the European Youth Forum. Not quite the news I was expecting during my first weeks at university, but I was delighted to be elected.
What is the European Youth Forum?
The European Youth Forum is the largest youth organisation in the world and represents tens of millions of European young people via delegates from both National Youth Councils, such as the British Youth Council, and international non-governmental youth organisations such as YMCA. We work to increase the participation of young people and youth organisations in society, and we are a recognised partner of the European Union, the Council of Europe and the United Nations.
Whilst there are many elements to the work of the European Youth Forum, and as UK Young Ambassadors we always strive to work internally within the British Youth Council as well as internationally, our main events are the biannual General Assembly and Council of Members meeting. At the 2020 General Assembly, we elected members to the board of the Youth Forum and the wonderful Tom Matthews from the British Youth Council fought a successful campaign to gain a place. Whilst this is an exceptional achievement and we are all very proud of Tom, it left me as the lead delegate with the voting responsibilities for last week’s Council of Members meeting.
Council of Members meeting 2021
Although we had hoped otherwise, April 17th and 18th found us back online instead of Brussels for this year’s Council of Members meeting. By ‘us’ I mean Tom, me and our last-minute-stand-in-extra-delegate-extraordinaire Dave Morris, policy officer of the British Youth Council. Dave’s presence meant that I wasn’t bound to the screen for every single second that the meeting was active.
Even though the meeting was online, there is something special about the atmosphere of a European Youth Forum meeting that it is still felt virtually, and as we sat at our respective screens, across Europe, there was a real sense of togetherness.
The main body of the meeting was taken up with elections for the Advisory Council on Youth for the Council of Europe. They are one of our partner organisations and we send the majority of their members from within our own member organisations, following the election process. Usually, we would be able to hold hostings in person and get to know the candidates personally. However, I found myself jumping on Skype, Facebook, WhatsApp, you name it- we tried it, calls in efforts to decide who was going to get the vote of the British Youth Council.
To be the person making those decisions on behalf of the British Youth Council is such a huge privilege and a role to be taken seriously. We also successfully passed a Motion on the Human Rights violation in Western Sahara and on the admission of the National Youth Council of Ukraine. I’m delighted to be able to say that we are continuing to grow and the European Youth Forum now has one more member organisation!
The way forward
As we adjust to life outside the European Union we face not only practical obstacles, such as the loss of Erasmus+ funding for non-formal educational programmes, but we must also adapt to a new international position. For this reason, the words of the Vice-President of the European Youth Forum, Frédéric Piccavet, really struck me. When speaking about the work of the Youth Forum he said, “that’s why I believe that we are stronger together” and as we go on into the post-Brexit era, we would be wise to remember this. Just because we are no longer within the European Union it does mean that the UK can or should foster strong and meaningful relationships within Europe because, fundamentally, we are at our best when we work together; something demonstrated clearly by the work of the European Youth Forum.
The British Youth Council are calling on the UK government to announce its plans to replace significant funding lost since the UK’s exit from the EU. Following the ratification of the new trading and cooperation agreement with the European Union, organisations in the UK have lost access to Erasmus Plus.
The youth-led charity is calling on Ministers to take steps to address the €1 billion shortfall in funding which will affect many organisations across the UK. More than 4,800 UK-based projects were awarded funding between 2014-2018. The EU programme enabled organisations to support young people to develop new skills, gain vital international experience and boost their employability. UK Youth Parliament and UK Young Ambassadors, which are coordinated by the British Youth Council, have both received significant funding and support from the European programme.
Sarah Staples, Chair, British Youth Council said: “It cannot be right that young people have lost out as a result of this new deal with the European Union. Many UK youth organisations will have to scale back their work with young people or stop their work altogether if this funding is not replaced. The government must prioritise creating some certainty for the future of this funding so young people can continue to have access to these opportunities in post-Brexit Britain.”
The programme was also well-known for student exchanges and enabling young people to study, volunteer and gain work experience. Despite promising otherwise, the UK government will no longer participate in any part of the programme. The government have since announced the inception of the Turing scheme, which is due to commence in September 2021, and will allow young people to study and do work placements in other countries. However, the British Youth Council has concerns that without action and a like-for-like replacement for Erasmus Plus young people in the UK will lose access to the informal educational opportunities which they have been able to access until now.
The national youth council has written to Gavin Williamson CBE MP, Secretary of State for Education and Oliver Dowden CBE MP, Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport to urge action so organisations can continue to deliver for young people post-Brexit.
The British Youth Council recognises that the majority of young people voted to remain in the European Union back in 2016. At the time 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 urges the government to work with young people to ensure that they are given a voice on the global stage and to work with them to give them opportunities for education, to build relationships across national and cultural boundaries and to build their employability prospects.
The British Youth Council are urging the UK Government to address the concerns of young people in any further Brexit negotiations. The youth-led charity has repeatedly highlighted the importance of including young people in decisions that will affect their future.
The importance of maintaining funding opportunities, such as the Erasmus+ programme, remains a priority for members of the British Youth Council. Despite reassurances from the Government, the British Youth Council also stressed the importance of young people and youth organisations having access to the same opportunities. The statement was made in response to the Commons vote which took place on Wednesday 8th January 2020, which saw Members of Parliament vote against compelling officials to negotiate continuing full membership of the programme.
A spokesperson for the British Youth Council said: “Young people’s voices need to be heard in the future Brexit negotiations, not just as a footnote, but as key stakeholders in the future of the country.
“Moving forward we’d like to see young people more involved in the decision making so we can ensure young people don’t loose out in post-Brexit Britain.”
The charity expressed disappointment at the Government’s decision to ignore calls for a second referendum on the final Brexit Deal. 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 concerns about rising racism and fascism within our society.
Young people aged 16 and 17 were also wrongly excluded from the EU Referendum, according to the national charity. The British Youth Council continues to acknowledge that these young people, all of whom are now eligible to vote, were denied the opportunity to participate despite growing support among politicians from across the political spectrum.
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.
Today we heard the Government’s legislative plan via the Queen’s Speech. There was some good news, some expected news, and a huge missed opportunity.
The British Youth Council campaigned on six key issues in the run up to the General Election. These are the issues that young people have told us are important to them and they want to Government to listen.
So the good news is a commitment to reforming mental health legislation to ensure that mental health is prioritised in the NHS. Our Youth Select Committee in 2015 made recommendations to Government on issues such as funding, training for GPs, and support in education, and we look forward to seeing the detail of the new legislation.
We are also pleased to see a commitment to raising the National Living Wage. The recent Social Mobility Barometer highlighted that young people believe their future to be bleak, and proper and fair pay for work is crucial to this. So whilst the announcement today is good news we would like to see this go further, with the introduction of the real Living Wage, and a pay structure that does not discriminate by age.
As expected, there is a significant number of legislative proposals in relation to Brexit. This is going to dominate the political narrative over the next two years. Therefore Proposals around the great repeal bill, immigration and trade come as no surprise.
What is severely lacking is the government’s response to young people. The youth vote grew massively at this election, showing that young people care about political issues and will turn up when politicians show that are listening. What is missing from all the talk of Brexit is a commitment to putting young people at the heart of negotiations. We have written to the Prime Minister seeking an early to meeting to discuss how we can work to ensure young people are part of the process and not left behind.
Also missing is a commitment to invest in and listen to young people. BYC and the Votes at 16 Coalition have long been campaigning to lower the voting age to 16 in all public elections, complemented by comprehensive political literacy as part of a compulsory PSHE curriculum. This would ensure that all citizens understand our democratic processes and are prepared and empowered to play their part.
As a fifteen-year-old, I campaigned in the Scottish Independence referendum but I could not vote. When I turned sixteen, I was trusted as a door-to-door canvasser for general election but was not seen mature enough to vote. At seventeen, the government successfully denied the voice of over 1.5 million 16 and 17-year-olds in the UK. No, I did not vote for Brexit but I still have to live it! Now finally it’s the time. My polling card is more than just a document which gives information about the election. It is a symbol of empowerment to me. I finally felt I too had arrived.
Young people engaging in politics is essential but politicians listening to young people is equally important. They were quick to criticise the low turnout but did they try to solve it? Why would a young person be interested to get pale, stale and male back in the office? When we only hear criticism on our behaviour during their term in office. Don’t get me wrong. Yes, young people do care about politics but we are continuously alienated by politicians. Political figures need to train themselves to be role models. They need to show us their human side. We (young people) are sick and tired of seeing their immature, petty and mean behaviour.
Even after all of this, I do see an increase in the numbers of my constituents engaging in the election. More and more of them are out helping their local candidates, leafleting, and canvassing. They now believe some political parties are finally offering a benefit to them directly. This time, not all politicians are just diagnosing but actually proving they can cure it.
According to the evidence compiled at the London School of Economics, turnout among young people aged 18 to 24 in the EU referendum was almost double the level that has been widely reported since polling day. This was the highest turnout for this age group since the 1990s. Young people once again proved that they are passionate and want to make a difference.
Now when the UK is triggering Article 50 and will be making decision that will change our future forever, I believe young people deserve a say in the Brexit negotiation. After all we are the generation that will live the longest with the outcomes of this. We want government to show us the best deal for all young people. We want them to prove us where the funding for university degrees and research placement that came from the EU will come from. We want a say in where the UK invests money after we have left the EU, as we will no longer be paying into the European Union. It is the time to involve us not leave us out in this key and crucial decision!
If you were to google ‘millennials are’, the words that come after are not inspiring; ‘lazy’, ‘stupid’ or ‘screwed’. This isn’t by chance, it’s part of a wider narrative.
My generation – those who are currently under 25 – are constantly undervalued and undermined.
We’re seen as selfish and entitled, bone-idle and boorish.
Nothing could be further from the truth – young people care. We care about our families and our friends, our schools and hospitals. We care about our future employment and the future of the earth.
Why are we not listened to, or taken seriously?
The first answer is very simple – often our legitimate voices are taken away from us. It simply makes no sense not to enfranchise 16 and 17 year-olds.
The Scottish Referendum showed us that 16 and 17 year-olds will make their views heard if given the opportunity and that all votes are equal to others.
The idea that you can work, pay taxes, marry or die for your country but can’t vote for the people who make those decisions – based on arguments that have essentially boiled down to mental capability and societal norms – is obviously nonsense.
They’re the same arguments that were used to not extend the vote to women and BME communities, many years ago.
We would urge the next government to extend this long denied right, which is quickly becoming a consensus opinion.
This could be the first step of many in making politics accessible to young people – electoral reform, localism, greater representation for young people and digitising our democracy would all give voice to those who are currently voiceless.
The second is that it’s far too easy to ignore us, even when we turn up. Brexit being the prime example. 70% of young people voted Remain, and were outvoted by older generations who won’t have to see the long-term consequences.
Which was an act of democracy, which we respect. What we cannot respect is the systematic undermining of the voices of young people over the single most important issue of the next 10 years. Education funding, Erasmus Plus, free movement, employment and jobs will be shaped for generations to come without input from the generation that it will come down on.
We would urge the next government to involve young people in the future of Brexit as soon as possible.
This will be the shape of the next five years, and a priority for the Government. There are opportunities in Brexit, as well as risks – A Brexit that puts young people’s futures at risk is not a Brexit we can get behind. Young people need to be able to travel to work and study, to share with different cultures and to have clean air to breath.
One clear ask of the next government – give young people the voice we deserve.
Because if you give young people the power over our futures – we won’t just change a Google search term – we’ll change the world.