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.
Within the uncertainty of our Coronavirus world lies one absolute guarantee: our society will change. As chair of the British Youth Council and someone doing their best to guide a charity through a global pandemic, I fully appreciate how erratic our daily lives have become. The disorientating speed at which we all have to make decisions, and process news contrasts with being unable to socialise or spend time outside, makes everyday feel like a year, with weeks dragging or flying by. So whilst I do not envy the scale and pace that Government decision makers have to compete with, I know I am not alone in becoming increasingly frustrated with the lack of public discussion or focus on how Coronavirus, or specifically COVID-19 will impact young people. Frankly, it is woeful that the generation who will have to endure the economic and social consequences of COVID-19 for the longest have not been consulted or focused on in any top level conversations. Taking three, simple steps could prove to be the fundamental changes needed to ensure that we are all embracing the fact that now, more than ever, young people matter.
Firstly, we desperately need someone to provide focused leadership on how we ensure children and young people (or ‘Generation COVID’) are not left behind when we face our new normal. Each day that schools remain closed, inequality between children widens, and the longer we are rightly following the social distancing rules, the more pronounced the mental health implications could become. An urgent, assured way to address these issues is to appoint a youth minister. We need someone responsible for bringing together experts across all departments and sectors. We need someone to plan how we safeguard the last ten years of social mobility progression. This new, point person would ensure that our plan for returning to education is complemented with research and action, and that we understand how social distancing affects our mental health.
Secondly, now is the time for the Government to be brave and elevate young voices, rather than perpetuating the archaic idea that children ‘should be seen, and not heard.’ This would mean throwing open the doors to young people full of urgent questions and ideas. However, barriers still exist with daily press conferences restricting public questions to over 18’s only. We should unashamedly follow in the footsteps of other world leaders who have specifically held youth press conferences. By empowering young people across the UK to vocalise their concerns, it would give ministers a valuable insight into the mindset of generations who will be burdened by our Coronavirus response. Other institutions, such as the Bank of England, are tackling the pandemic with young people at the forefront, and I highly suspect they will come out of this stronger. For example, the British Youth Council recently partnered with the Bank of England to establish the Bank of England Youth Forum. Members of the forum are currently gathering the financial concerns and questions of young people to put these to the Chief Economist, Andy Haldane.
Lastly, the sooner we all embrace the fact that the ‘pre-COVID’ priorities of younger generations are not going away, the sooner we can start to work across generations to find ways of embedding them into our collective exit strategy. How can we ensure our economy is supported and secure jobs are prioritised? How can we incorporate the environmental targets we cannot afford to drop? When the future of work looks grim for the under 30s, how can society collectively alleviate the concerns of the younger generations, who are often in precarious employment? Many politicians have admitted that our society will not be the same again, so let us try and work towards a society where the overwhelming priorities of the under 30s – such as tackling the climate crisis, and addressing the socio-economic factors that lead to knife crime – are built into the fabric of the new, (hopefully) post-COVID 19 society.
So far, it is apparent that the Government is dealing with the current health crisis as it develops, and the postmortem on how well or not they did this appears to be starting. Yet, I fear our policy makers are already behind in recognising how severe this global pandemic is going to impact the next generations; if we do not start to embed the voices of young people into our decision making structures now, we will be worse off sooner rather than later.
The British Youth Council is calling for the government to address some of the issues that have become more prevalent as a result of the Coronavirus outbreak. Decision makers up and down the country must make provisions to ensure young people’s voices are heard so issues which have been highlighted by the current crisis can be resolved.
Amanda Chetwynd-Cowieson, Chair, British Youth Council 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 youth-led charity stands in support of all of the key workers across the UK, particularly those working for the NHS, striving to provide essential services and keep us safe. Early indications since the global spread of Coronavirus, suggest the inequalities faced by Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic people across our health service remain an issue. The British Youth Council continues to believe health care settings should remain a safe, suitable and youth-friendly environment where possible. The current crisis has highlighted the ways in which chronic underfunding has led to inequalities in access to health care. Young people in insecure work and those who are socially and geographically isolated remain a concern for our members. We can not forget to address these issues of access and inequality in the wake of Coronavirus.
The crisis has further highlighted the need for increased mental health support for young people. The British Youth Council calls on the UK Government to create an open door policy within Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services. This approach would ensure that young people experiencing a mental health crisis can always access the support they need. We call for mental health support which is age-appropriate, youth-friendly and accessible both locally and nationally for 16-25 year olds.
Further to the vital work of our health service, in recent weeks there has been a huge uptake in applications for Universal Credit. In the last two weeks of March, almost a million people successfully applied for Universal Credit. Families will be facing extra financial burdens at this time with children out of school and changes in employment for parents and young people themselves. The British Youth Council believes that now is the time for the UK Government to increase support for child benefits and increase the rate received for younger children to the same rate received for the oldest child. Raising the child benefit level for the younger children in a large family is a simple and direct way of increasing vital support at a time of increased financial strain. This is particularly pertinent because larger families are more likely to be in poverty. Young people and families who have been placed under additional stress due to Coronavirus require this additional support.
We believe all of these issues could be more easily addressed if the government created a Minister for Young People. The creation of this ministerial position would ensure that someone within government was always seeking to bring youth voice into policymaking. We call on the government to immediately appoint a Minister for Young People who will be able to listen to the voices of young people and take real action to address their concerns.
The British Youth Council is launching ‘Our Parliament, Our Vision’, a manifesto which outlines our vision for the next UK Parliament. The manifesto sets out the four priorities that we want the next Parliament to address the issues of young people including climate change and mental health.
Young people want the next Parliament to do more to achieve the zero net emissions and tackle climate change, reduce the voting age to 16, put an end to poverty in our communities and recognise that our minds matter. The priorities were established through a process of consulting young people across the UK about the issues they cared about.
The British Youth Council has written to 17 political parties – including the Conservatives, Liberal Democrats, SNP and Labour. Each party has been asked to respond with their thoughts on our top four issues. The youth-led charity is due to publish the responses ahead of polling day on Thursday 12th December 2019.
A spokesperson for the British Youth Council said: “Candidates across the UK, seeking to represent young people, including those that can’t vote, should listen to the issues that young people are passionate about and tell young people what they plan to do address their priorities”
The manifesto forms part of our wider General Election campaign calling on politicians to not just talk about young people but to listen to their concerns and do something about them. Following the General Election, the British Youth Council will be lobbying the Government and calling on politicians to keep their promises to young people.
Member of Youth Parliament for Leeds, Sylvia Cullen, reflects on the Government’s announcement on guidance for schools
This new guidance is exactly the sort of forward thinking and developed framework that I believe young people need. As technology develops and becomes more advanced our lives become more complicated and new difficulties arise. By making it compulsory for schools to teach their pupils how to say safe online they are equipping them for life in our modern era and helping vital life skills to develop.
Also, mental and physical health come hand in hand, with poor physical health often leading to a decline mental health, and vice versa, and thus it is vital that we as young people are all taught how to look after ourselves in both respects. The new exam system is placing more pressure than ever on our young people and this newly published guidance indicates that steps are being made to help us look after ourselves amongst the pressure that we face.
Throughout our education we have the importance of friendship reinforced frequently but, until now, have never been offered much guidance in the way of maintaining and strengthening these relationships. This new guidance indicates that this will no longer be the case and that young people will now be taught how to keep relationships healthy and fruitful, which I hold to be highly important if we are to teach our young people self respect and to respect others.
The Rt Hon Damian Hinds MP, Secretary of State for Education, has just announced that, in a move affecting all schools across the country from September 2020, the government will introduce mandatory relationships and health education in schools. This will add to current schooling guidance on online safety, mental and physical health, financial literacy, and relationships, in what represents “a major step in addressing concerns about consistency of quality and reduced curriculum time for PSHE”.
This follows work from a vast array of sources: the PSHE (Personal, Social, Health and Economic) Association, tens of thousands of young people across the UK, and from the British Youth Council’s own Youth Select Committee and UK Youth Parliament.
It’s not as if the signs haven’t been there. Young people have been campaigning to leave school with a “good level of understanding of mental health… (with) the ability to understand and develop their own mental wellbeing” (Youth Select Committee 2015 ), and almost 120,000 young people voted mental health services as their top priority in the 2017 Make Your Mark ballot. Young people want education that is fit for purpose, education that serves to better the understanding of key topics facing them today. Young people are living in a world where mental health and wellbeing is ever more crucial to understand, with 75% of young people with a mental health problem not receiving treatment, depression being the biggest cause of ill health among teenagers around the world , and the most common reason for Childline Counselling sessions in 2016/17 being mental and emotional health.
The painting is a grim one.
In my capacity as a trustee of the British Youth Council, and in my work in the youth sector over the last eight years, I have worked with thousands of young people. I will never forget the mum of a girl I worked with at a youth club, in one of my first positions engaging with young people, who I sat down with and explained that depression didn’t mean there was anything wrong with her daughter, and that it didn’t make her ‘different’. We eventually decided to roll the mental health talk out to the group, as it was clearly not something they had heard before.
To see her daughter, who was a gem, coming out of her shell and getting excited and confident on a club trip to the seaside later that year, unshackled by negative perceptions of her own mental health, and with friends who understood her was and is one of my most rewarding experiences working with young people to date.
What I’m trying to say is, it’s great that the government is rolling this out. It’s needed, though. It’s badly needed.
When YouGov find that more than half of young people “feel embarrassed about mental illness”, when last year’s Youth Select Committee conclude that “body dissatisfaction causes long-lasting consequences for young people”, it feels like the government have only made a small step in the right direction.
Updating guidance that was last updated in 2000 is a positive start.
Ensuring children grow up to “become happy and well-rounded individuals who know how to deal with the challenges of the modern world” is crucial.
I warmly welcome the government listening to young people, but cannot stress enough the urgency of this problem, and a warning against piecemeal action. Creating PSHE that works for young people, makes them healthy, happy citizens, is of vital importance over the years to come.
We’re on the right path, but we’re not there yet.
The Children’s Commissioner for England, Anne Longfield, has launched a new report, ‘Life in Likes’, on the impact of social media on the lives of children before they become teenagers. Today’s report reveals many children are approaching a ‘cliff edge’ as they transition from primary to secondary school, with social media becoming much more important in their lives but causing them greater anxiety. The study suggests some children are becoming almost addicted to ‘likes’ as a form of social validation that makes them happy and that many are increasingly anxious about their online image and ‘keeping up appearances’.
The British Youth Council welcome the report and its recommendations which echo the Youth Select Committee report launched in November 2017 on young people and body image. ‘A Body Confident Future’ was published following an inquiry which gathered evidence from a range of witnesses, including charities, young people, academics, social media companies, and health and education professionals.
Anna Rose Barker, Chair of the British Youth Council said: “We welcome the research undertaken by the Children’s Commissioner into the impact of social media on children. Our own research through the Youth Select Committee highlighted that body dissatisfaction is the norm amongst young people in the UK. Social media can have both positive and negative impacts on body image, and whilst social media companies have taken some steps to mitigate the negative effects there is still more that can be done.
“It is good to see that the recommendations outlined in ‘Life in Likes’ reinforce the recommendations from the Youth Select Committee, specifically in calling for increased digital and media literacy within formal education, more support for teachers to understand the impact of social media on well being, and for social media companies to take more responsibility for the content on their platforms. We hope that this reinforces the need for action to protect children and young people.”
The Youth Select Committee report recommendations have been submitted to the Government for response, which is expected within the next few weeks.
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.
Democracy is one of the most wonderful things in this world as it allows people to have a voice in choosing who should govern their country. Many people around the world still don’t have this privilege and I am thankful that I do.
As I am able to vote and so are thousands of young people, it’s important that politicians listen and engage with young people. Young people can also engage by campaigning for the parliamentary candidate they support. I do believe it’s a two-sided effort as young people need to make an effort to raise the issues important to them with politicians and equally for politicians reaching out to young people and hearing them out when they have an issue that needs addressing.
An issue that has gained a lot of support from many people so far as it needs to be improved is the access and quality of mental health services. The priority of ‘Our Minds Matter’ aims to do this and it’s something that needs to be addressed at different levels especially on a national level where it can potentially have the most impact. As a member of the NHS Youth Forum this is something that I feel really passionately about. We have been focusing on young people’s rights in healthcare, ensuring that young people know that they have rights and that healthcare professionals recognise and respect those rights. This is crucial within mental health provision for young people. We have created a series of posters on your rights in healthcare and we want all health settings to display these posters and to respect and listen to young people.
Want to get involved?