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.
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.”