On the 29th January, we had the privilege to visit City Hall and participate in the Countering Violent Extremism programme, representing young people from the London Faith Forum.
A few months previously we took part in a focus group led by the ICIC at Westminster Youth Council; they asked us about our opinions in regards to the recent rise in extremism, both Islamic, as is shown is the media, and more pressingly the growth of the far-right. We had a fascinating discussion and so did they, because they selected two of us to represent young people at the programme.
At the event, we had to opportunity to discuss our opinions about how London could better respond to threats and increase inclusivity and awareness, ensuring target groups were not isolated or felt persecuted, and how to implement such reforms. All of these were responses to recent concerns in the city.
We got to talk to a board of experts in government, for instance Nick Bowes, Mayoral Director of Policy, and the London Mayor him self, Sadiq Khan. He listened to our recommendations and was a fantastic listener. It was an amazing experience, and great to have gotten it through Westminster Youth Council.
However, we did not just get to network with a group of accomplished, intelligent people; we also got to contribute ideas to how to change London’s approach to tackling violent extremism (as the programme would suggest), for instance proposing reforms in the Prevent scheme, and promoting diversity within the London curriculum.
I cannot thank the Youth Council enough for giving me this opportunity and the experience it has granted me, specifically Shofa Miah, Leader of Youth Council, and Aby Murray, our fantastic youth participation worker.
In a world that’s changing so quickly, with amazing new technologies appearing everyday, it’s more important than ever that some of society’s most established institutions open both their doors and their minds to the ideas and voices of young people. It’s brilliant to be able to say that, working closely with the British Youth Council and our members, the Bank of England are doing just that.
A few weeks ago, Ben Broadbent, the Deputy Governor of the Bank of England, put himself forward to listen to and answer some of the thoughtful and important questions from the British Youth Council’s members. This was something really quite cool, knowing that Ben was happy to not only put himself out there to be questioned but that it was an opportunity members were keen to engage in. Particularly when it comes to money, banking and all things finances – a world that can so often be alienating to those not working in it – embracing these types of opportunities to elevate youth voice is what the British Youth Council is all about.
The questions posed to the Deputy Governor tell an interesting story about the current concerns of younger
Opportunities like this are so important if we all truly subscribe to the idea that young people can be the leaders of today, not just the leaders of tomorrow. For many institutions like the Bank of England, one of their most important aims has to be to stay relevant and accessible to each new generation; and what easier way to do this then to open themselves up to the ideas and questions of the very people who will one day be in charge. It can be quite easy to slip into the habit of being annoyed if there is no immediate answer to our questions, but without organisations allowing youth voice to into their structures, those questions would never get a fair hearing in the first place.
Small steps are the most important when working towards big changes, and I’m both grateful and excited to see how the Bank of England and the British Youth Council can continue to give young people the opportunity to influence how money affects everyone’s lives in the future. If institutions like the Bank of England can start to allow more and more young voices truly influence how they think, work and look, hopefully, it won’t be long until hundreds of others are joining them in doing so.
Surreal is the only way to describe walking into one of the most famous and prestigious buildings in the UK. The walls and rooms were so decadent that it was so easy to feel out of place. But it also served as a reminder of why exactly we were there: to discuss solutions to the problems that came out of Commonwealth Youth Forum; to work out how to hold governments to account; to renew the energy and enthusiasm around our work.
After listening to a warm and witty opening speech by Lord Ahmed, Minister of State for the Commonwealth and United Nations, we then were graced with His Royal Highness, Prince Harry, the Duke of Sussex. He spoke powerfully about his passion around the Commonwealth and mental health in particular. His message resonated with me so much, as he reminded us of our duty to create a sustainable world so we can leave a better world behind for our children; with the Prince expecting his first child and myself having younger siblings, we can’t afford to forget that message.
The roundtable discussions then started. Split into 5 tables for 5 different questions on topics such as maintaining the momentum of the Commonwealth Youth Forum in 2018, mine was about the most effective ways of working together. First, we each presented some of the work we have been doing across the country, which was absolutely humbling. To be around a table with such extraordinary young leaders is such an exceptional experience, I made sure to appreciate and enjoy it and truly listen. We then looked at how to work effectively in terms of strategising and resource sharing.
Different strategies came out, some of which I’ll definitely implement in my future campaigning. The chair of the Commonwealth Youth Council, Tijarni, talked about how creating public demand can be so effective in keeping momentum for a campaign. In a world where there are new issues every day, it is difficult to keep people engaged and enthused with a piece of work. Putting a more positive spin and the importance of framing also came up, which is such an impactful point because the majority of discourse around social issues is shrouded in negativity.
Afterwards, I presented a summary of our discussions and listened to the other summaries. As cliché as it sounds, I genuinely felt energised afterwards; you could actually feel the electricity in the room.
The day finished as quickly as it started, with all of us saying our goodbyes. But we could all leave that stunning palace with a renewed sense of optimism, and, more importantly, a genuine call for action. We won’t let false promises lull us into inaction, not this time. This is too pivotal a moment for our futures, our children’s futures, and our world’s futures for that.
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.”
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.
As she comes to the end of her term of office, outgoing Chair of the British Youth Council, Anna Rose Barker, shares her reflections and her commitment to youth voice in the UK.
It’s all too easy for the political agenda to overlook young people.
This means that the distribution of economic and political privilege leaves young people undervalued and without representative influence. However, it’s hugely important that our society hears and protects the opinions of young people. The experience of youth at any one point in time is not one that can ever be shared by older generations.
Every generation has their own experience of what it is to be young, but that is an experience only framed by the era and environment they were brought up. Our social, economic and political environment today is rich with opportunity with the potential for incredible change.
Youth voice matters! It matters in continuing to build coherent and fair societies. It matters to underrepresented opinions. Opinions which throughout history have been elevated by pro-active, idealistic and sometimes, justifiably angry young people. Young people matter now more than ever.
The last three years on the board and two years as Chair have been remarkable. We have achieved so much and we must not forget that. From appointing a new CEO; revising the entire governance structure of the organisation; building a new strategy and most importantly; we have fostered a positive, thoughtful and uncompromising culture that pushes the charity forward and holds it to account.
In concluding my tenure as Chair I think it’s valuable that we keep reminding ourselves why we’re involved with the British Youth Council and why youth voice matters.
To all young people, staff and supporters that will lead the British Youth Council for years to come, remember that the responsibility you have to our charity is multi-dimensional. It’s enormously important that the charity maintains the highest standard possible of fiduciary, legal and financial responsibility for future generations to benefit from our vision. But you also have another role. You will help set the pace of change across the country and you will represent our diverse, and very impressive membership base. Please don’t forget why you all got involved with the British Youth Council and why empowering youth voice and participation is so very crucial. You are the one’s to make this happen.
But before I go I want to make a promise to a charity that has shaped me so much:
I promise to always elevate the experiences of young people. I promise to ask and listen. I promise to hold dear the vision, mission and values of The British Youth Council.
The Electoral Reform Society has today released a report damning the 2018 Voter ID pilots as ‘a sledgehammer to crack a nut’. At this year’s local elections five areas trialled different forms of ID requirements as a measure to prevent voter fraud. However, as highlighted by the report, in a single day across the five councils twice as many people didn’t vote due to having incorrect ID as have been accused of personation, the type of fraud that ID prevents, in eight years across the whole of the UK.
The British Youth Council is among many voluntary and community sector organisations who have already raised concerns about the impact of Voter ID on the participation of marginalised communities across the UK. Evaluations have shown that those in lower socio-economic groups and younger voters were less likely to know about the ID requirements. The Windrush scandal this year has highlighted the difficulties that some legitimate voters could have in accessing identity documents. In the UK we do not have a universal and free form of photographic ID, meaning that there are financial barriers to providing photographic ID, and additional hoops to step through to gain a free locally accepted ID.
“Throughout history, the power of the vote and, equal access to voting, is something that so many have fought for – with young people being some of those who continue that battle to this day,” says British Youth Council Trustee Larissa Kennedy. “It seems oxymoronic that, in the year that we are celebrating the centenary of the extension of the franchise to some women, and 90 years since the vote was extended to all women and men over 21, that we are simultaneously putting barriers in the way of people accessing their vote.”
At the recent full Council meeting of the British Youth Council, a motion opposing the introduction of voter ID was passed by the membership, calling on the Government to reconsider the current approach and to look at different solutions that are proportionate to the actual risk posed by voter fraud, and calling on the Electoral Commission to examine the impact of voter ID trials on marginalised communities, including young people, to ensure that the impacts are not disproportionately felt by those communities.
“We heard from young people in one of the pilot areas that they were left feeling that only the smart and well educated would be voting’,” said Anna Rose Barker, Chair of the British Youth Council. “Democratic participation is a crucial responsibility of every member of society and attempts to deal with voter fraud must not disproportionately harm access to democracy. In the 2017 UK Parliamentary elections, 13 seats were won with a majority less than the number of people denied a vote in Bromley. The introduction of voter ID has a huge potential to swing the outcome of elections, reducing the voice of those already marginalised from the democratic process and creating a greater sense of disillusionment with the democratic process.”
The British Youth Council believes that the right to vote of young people and other marginalised communities must be protected. We will continue to stand alongside the Electoral Reform Society and other voluntary and community sector organisations to call for the voices of the marginalised to be heard and to remove barriers to democratic participation.
UK Youth Parliament’s Make Your Mark campaign received cross-party support from Members of Parliament this week. The ballot invites young people aged 11-18 to take part in shortlisting what is debated in the House of Commons chamber by Members of Youth Parliament. Young people can cast their vote in a multitude of ways including online.
The issues on the ballot, which includes ending period poverty and tackling homelessness, reflect the pledges made at local elections by Members of Youth Parliament across the UK. The nationwide campaign is supported by Local Authorities, schools and volunteers who are giving up their time to make sure young people have their say. Throughout the Autumn Members of Youth Parliament and volunteers across the country, invite young people in schools and youth clubs to take this opportunity to inform and influence Government and the decision makers in their communities.
Make Your Mark, which is supported by the British Youth Council, has reached hundreds of thousands of young people each year. Last year alone, almost a million young people took part in the annual ballot.
The Commons debate will take place on Friday 9th November, and will be chaired by The Rt Hon John Bercow MP, Speaker of the House of Commons, who recently pledged his support for the campaign stating he looked forward to “welcoming the Members of the Youth Parliament and presiding over some truly inspiring debates”. Following the debates, Members of Youth Parliament will then choose their priorities for 2019.
You can find pictures of the Members of Parliament who pledged their support on Facebook.
British Youth Council Trustee, Larissa Kennedy, comments on the Voter ID pilots undertaken at the Local Elections in 2018.
Throughout history, the power of the vote and, equal access to voting, is something that so many have fought for – with young people being some of those who continue that battle to this day. It seems oxymoronic that, in the year that we are celebrating the centenary of the extension of the franchise to some women, and 90 years since the vote was extended to all women and men over 21, that we are simultaneously putting barriers in the way of people accessing their vote.
The government’s Democratic Engagement Plan should be doing what it says on the tin – engaging people in democracy. And it’s sub heading – ‘Building A Democracy That Works For Everyone’ – is absolutely a principle that we can get behind. But we’re concerned that current actions could actually do the opposite. In May this year there were pilots that require people to produce ID at the polling stations before they could vote in the local elections. In Swindon and Watford, you had to take your poll card to the polling station; in Bromley and Gosport, you needed one piece of photo identification, like a passport or driving licence, or two pieces of non photo ID, such as a recent bank or credit card statement and utility bill of which one must contain your address; and in Woking, you needed photo identification, like a passport, driving licence or senior bus pass.
This is a move to prevent electoral fraud but this doesn’t seem up to add up. An evaluation of this pilot by the Electoral Commission has shown that whilst only three allegations of this type of voter fraud have been made in non-pilot areas, at the same election around 350 people turned up to vote, were turned away for not having the correct ID and did not come back. In Watford there was a correlation between the proportion of a ward’s population that is Asian/British Asian and the number of people who turned up without identification and did not return. And under 35s and people in the lowest social classes (C2DE) were amongst the least likely to have received the messages about the requirement to have ID to be able to vote.
Why the British Youth Council is speaking out on this?
Numerous studies from the US prove that strict rules about voter ID make it harder for marginalised groups to engage with politics – this could further disenfranchise not only young people, but also the elderly, disabled people, trans and gender non-conforming people, people of colour, and the homeless.
The British Youth Council has always supported young voters. In the past, we’ve run voter registration campaigns because we’re passionate about ensuring that young voters can access their vote. Now, we’re standing in solidarity with the Electoral Reform Society, researchers, and numerous organisations representing marginalised voting communities, including Race On The Agenda, The LGBT Foundation, Liberty and Age UK just to name a few, calling on the government to reconsider this approach.
In all elections and referenda, all eligible people should be able to exercise their democratic right. It is crucial for that we stand up for this right, and the British Youth Council – as always – will continue to fight for young’s voices people to be heard.
8am Monday morning. We’ve already been at the QEII for an hour. Delegates are beginning to arrive, and the buzz of excitement and anticipation is rife in the air. That energy fades and is replaced with a crowd of early 20-somethings holding their breath as His Royal Highness Prince Harry is escorted in. But, I’m getting ahead of myself slightly. Rewind to another Monday morning, 7 months earlier; it’s October and another group of 20-somethings are nervously gathered in Marlborough House beginning the talks that will lead us to the Commonwealth Youth Forum 2018.
I’m Luke Oliver, I’m 23 and a member of the CYF International Taskforce. Back in October of 2017, I gathered with others to help plan the forum that was then delivered to around 300 delegates from across the Commonwealth. The International Taskforce was made up of about 15 young people because if you want to combat youth issues you can only do that by having youth involved. We were tasked with focusing the forum on four key areas designed to help improve the Commonwealth’s ‘Common Future’; these areas were sustainability, prosperity, fairness & security.
The work began by dividing the Taskforce into three main sub-teams: programmes, policy, and communications. The programmes team began by taking the four pillars as guidelines and then honing them to create areas of interest that affect the youth of the Commonwealth. This meant thinking about cyber security for an ever-growing world; equality for all minorities and acknowledging the richness that those minorities can bring to society, to climate change and the impact that is going to have on us as we inherit the Commonwealth but also the generations of Commonwealth youth to come; cyber security for an ever-growing world. Now, these weren’t thoughts that came from one meeting in October, they were ruminated over many months in the lead up to CHOGM in collaboration with the policy team who listened to the conceptual ideas and then wrote the communique that delegates got to work with, and create action plans for, during the forum. Meanwhile, the communications team aided with campaigns to raise the awareness and engagement of youth in the Commonwealth in the lead up to April.
It’s now April, CHOGM and the Commonwealth Youth Forum are here. All the delegates have arrived and now the work really begins. The forum has been split into two major strands of events: plenaries and break-out sessions. There were four plenaries, one for each pillar, containing young people who are experts in their fields discussing the work they’re doing in their communities across the Commonwealth in the hopes to share success stories, not so successful stories and best practice with the delegates and hopefully impart knowledge on how delegates can better improve their own communities. The second strand was the break-out sessions. This is where the 300 delegates were given the chance to be at the heart of affecting change and policy for the tens of millions of youth across the Commonwealth who couldn’t attend. This meant creating action plans for the policies which had been drafted in the communique. If the policy was ‘more funding for youth entrepreneurships’ the actions plans may have discussed ways in which young people can access that funding. Both strands played a vital role in the forum, the plenaries were the calls to action and provided examples of the differences this year’s wave of delegates could make; the break-out sessions then created a space for the delegates to be instrumental in the way policy jargon can become physical change in communities across the world.
The three days of the forum became a productive blur with very little let up. On the Wednesday night, the action plans were added to the communique and then forwarded to all of the Heads of Governments from across the Commonwealth to discuss in the meetings at Windsor Castle. The youth agenda is usually something that is tokenistic and discussed in brief by middle-aged senior ministers. So, to be able to say that youth have been at the heart of this year’s CHOGM and the Commonwealth’s future is extremely special and something that I and all involved are tremendously proud to have achieved.
But it’s up to you! If you attended you have tools now to go back and implement change. If you didn’t attend there’s heaps online you can access to see exactly what happened behind the four walls of the QEII or contact people who did go, pick their brains about how they can lead you to make a difference too.