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.
Local projects have been recognised in the British Youth Council’s Youth Voice Star Awards. The awards celebrate the breadth and diversity of local work happening across the UK to promote young people’s voices.
The celebratory ceremony, which took place in London, was a chance to recognise the youth workers who make it happen, the change makers that champion young people, the organisations that give a platform to youth voice, and projects doing things differently to address local and national issues.
Amanda Chetwynd-Cowieson, Chair, British Youth Council said: “It really is inspiring to see some many people are working hard to promote the voices of young people.
“Young people continue to lobby for change on the issues that matter to them. It’s absolutely imperative we recognise those young people, the organisations behind them and the staff – who often work with limited resources – to make sure young people can influence decision makers regardless.”
The following awards were announced:
Award for Personal Development:
Jessica Griffiths from Kent
Celebrating Diversity Award:
BYOU in Wigan
BYOU are an LGBTQ support and Action group, BYOU
Young Campaigner of the Year:
Adam Shaikh from Sandwell
Adam Shaikh is 21 years old and the former Youth Commissioner of Sandwell and Chair of SHAPE Youth Forum. After going through childhood and adolescence with a painful past, Adam joined
Youth Led Project Award:
Bright Minds Big Futures in Stockton
In 2017 Stockton-on-Tees Borough Council made a pledge to put young people at the heart of all that we do and work together with children and young people to make the Borough a great place to grow up. In March 2017 a Coordinator was appointed to make this a reality. Without a budget, clear concept and objectives the task began. They worked from the ground up, ensuring that young people were there from the beginning to lead on the direction of travel and fully develop and implement the initiative.
Youth Voice Champion:
Tim Taylor Director of Customer
Services at South Yorkshire Passenger Transport Executive
Tim Taylor has worked tirelessly to improve the experience of young people on public transport in South Yorkshire. He was central to the formation of the South Yorkshire Young People’s User Group in which youth representatives from across the region meet several times a year with transport operators and decision makers to raise and challenge issues and policies on transport.
Youth Voice Worker of the Year:
Sarah Bellamy, from Rotherham
Sarah Bellamy has worked with young people for over 15 years, working tirelessly to support children and young people. “Sarah is best thing that I have got from youth voice. She is the most important person in my life after my family and I don’t know how I’m going to live without her in my life. She is superhuman.”
With our broad and diverse membership, our organisation represents voices of young people in all areas of the country. Often, youth councils, scout and guides groups, and our other members are the only access to opportunities for young people in rural areas, and therefore many of our policies and aims focus on these regions. The concern over the accessibility of public transport has therefore been raised through our members’ campaigns year after year, and especially in more rural parts of the country like mine, the South West.
Without access to regular, affordable bus services, young people can be isolated from friends, education, and work opportunities, and this is further impacted by the rising costs of car insurance and associated costs. With the report showing that 89% of rural journeys are made by car, it is clear that young people who are both below the age of driving, and who cannot afford to drive when they reach that point, are therefore severely disadvantaged by a lack of sustainable transport options.
We are pleased that our research into this issue from our earlier reports has been mentioned in this year’s Rural England Report. The findings of the report were drawn from, our 2012 Youth Select Committee report, researched costs, accessibility, and the impact rural transport provisions have, and so this reference is a credit to the young people campaigning on transport services. It is clear that transport has a huge effect on life chances through education, a correlation that can be drawn between costs and numbers of routes in rural counties and countless social mobility reports. Further to this, the Rural England Report also highlights how library service budgets are 25% lower in rural areas than urban ones, which can severely impact educational achievements, and many rural areas also don’t have access to university libraries – like my county, Somerset.
The findings of the report support the work out members in rural communities have been doing, and the issues they have been raising, so we hope this report shows the Government the work that needs to be done to ensure young people in rural regions are disadvantaged on the basis of where we live.
We are pleased that our voices have been recognised in this report, and The British Youth Council will proudly continue to raise voices of young people who can feel isolated and a world away from decision makers; a bridge we work to build. Rural concerns will always be central to the work of the British Youth Council, as we further our journey to empowering the voices of young people all across our country.
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.
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.
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.