This morning I had the great privilege of attending the House of Commons to listen to the member of the UK Youth parliament debating the top issues of importance to 11 – 18 year olds. And what an inspiring few hours it was!
The topics up for debate were the priority issues voted by just under a million young people across the country in the recent Make Your Mark campaign: Votes at 16; Curriculum for Life; LGBT+ rights; employment hubs for work experience; and transport.
A blog cannot do justice to the quality of debate, but, I will just say this. All the young people I heard were articulate, intelligent, displayed a sound knowledge of history, dignified and supportive of each other (two young people fainted during the session, creating some drama!). Indeed, John Bercow MP, Speaker of the House noted that the current parliamentary system had a lot to learn from the UK Youth Parliament, not least in terms of diversity, with young people from all around the country and a multiplicity of background, ethnicities and religions present.
Young people talked passionately about bullying in schools faced by LGBT young people, and higher rates of suicide in the transgender community. They expressed extreme frustration at a system that allows them to join the armed forces, be employed and get married at 16 with parental permission, but that won’t give them the vote. As one young man succinctly put it ‘If society has little or no expectations of what we can achieve, then how can we have high expectations of ourselves’?!
Others felt that rather than votes at 16 their efforts would be better spent focusing on improving education and political knowledge in the here and now, and better preparing them for life. It was depressing to hear how acutely young people are aware of youth unemployment and how work experience remains a lottery of postcode, class and connections. Many feel ‘unguided and uncertain’, and argued for work experience hubs across the country to pool opportunities and match their aspirations. But, in the same breath, young people spoke of the importance of not being put off by life’s challenges but facing them with courage and determination as part of life’s journey, putting paid in one fell swoop to the idea that this generation lacks resilience!
I was left feeling society would be a much better place if we allowed more space to hear what young people have to say and that Tony Benn was right when he said ‘the purpose of the old is to encourage the young’. I would urge anyone in a position of power and privilege, to listen to the debates (it will be televised on BBC Parliament on Saturday 11th November from 1:30pm-3:30pm and on Sunday 12 November from 10:00am-12:00pm); and think about how you can involve young people in your work – you will definitely learn something, and you never know may even make better decisions for it!
On that note, the Blagrave Trust is recruiting for 2 young trustees – we can’t wait to hear from you! Check out our website if you’re interested.