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.
The British Youth Council have expressed their dissatisfaction with the Government’s continued opposition to a lower voting age. The unplanned EU Elections which take place on Thursday 23rd May will see 1.5 million young people aged 16 and 17 denied the opportunity to vote.
Over the past 16 years, the youth-led charity has been campaigning for the enfranchisement of 16 and 17 year olds. Research compiled by the Votes at 16 Coalition indicates unanimous cross-party support in the Scottish Parliament where they have introduced votes at 16 in Scottish Parliamentary elections and Local Council elections, increasing support across the green benches at Westminster and significant support in the Wales where the Welsh Assembly are due to introduce a lower voting age in 2021.
‘Unequal access to democracy’
16 and 17 year olds in Scotland had the chance to vote in the Scottish Referendum, continue to vote in the Scottish Parliamentary elections and Scottish Local Council elections and we are due to lower the voting age in the Welsh local elections in the near future. This continues to create unequal access to democracy across the UK.
Amanda Chetwynd-Cowieson, Chair of the British Youth Council said: “It is simply unbelievable that we continue to deny 16 and 17 year olds the opportunity to vote in some elections. How can the Government justify this unequal situation?”
Earlier this year the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Votes at 16 released a campaign report.
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.
When I think of the word politics, several potent images of sceptical public politicians and highly emotive scandalous campaigns come to my mind. These days, my Facebook feed is flooded with news articles that appear to be published to rile the public into believing that all politicians are the same and that there is no point in voting at all.
Based on this media coverage, it’s almost as if we are living in an era where great ideas and ideologies are shadowed by boisterous public figures and shrewd personas. In light of this, can we really blame the millions of young people in the UK who choose to disengage with this petty drama? After all, what does the word politics even mean at its core? Last time I checked it definitely was not associated with personal attacks on the people who are actively championing change in our communities. Yet sadly, this is often the case.
Bringing about positive change to an imperfect society in an imperfect world is no easy task. However, it’s important to remember that we, the young people living in the United Kingdom have the responsibility to exercise our civic duty but most importantly, our right. This right is the golden ticket to progressive change- it’s our right to vote. It’s no surprise that we all have our own unique political priorities and viewpoints relating to the upcoming snap general election. However, I am pleased to note that through my work with the Erasmus Student Network, I find that more often than not, we as young people are open to the idea that we live in a world where we are united in our diversity. This is a truly wonderful thing!
We, the Erasmus Student Network in the UK, will continue to fight for student mobility and international opportunities for intercultural understanding now more than ever. Our vision is to empower young people to live, study and work abroad. For us, mobility is, in fact, a lifestyle! It is not just a way of living; it is a way of thinking. We want the UK government to support us in facilitating student mobility and empowering change! We want each and every young person across the UK to have a sense of what it truly means to belong to a larger community of young people; a community that is founded on mutual respect, intercultural understanding and joint collaboration. We need the Erasmus programme to stay!
In the wake of Brexit, many important decisions lie ahead. We as young people must consider who we want to represent our views both nationally and internationally. We must be heard. On June the 5th, we will be presented with the opportunity to cast our opinions at polling stations across the UK. Personally, I will be voting based on the principles that I value and cherish. I encourage you to vote based on what’s right for you!
So ask yourself the following questions: What do you value? What do you consider important in your daily life? What changes would you like to see? These are the questions to ask yourself before you vote this June. The power is in your hands, please don’t forget to use it to cast that precious vote you own!