Getting “Youth Voices Heard” in Parliament is one of the three top priorities of the ‘Young Voices Heard’ initiative. (the others being in the Boardroom and in Communities. It is based on the assumption that the health of a nation’s governance is proportionate to the level of participation of its young people in public life, and in particular, their understanding and engagement with their Parliament. This blog was first written by the founder of Young Voices Heard in 2017 but was expanded and developed into a Paper for the Political Studies Association in 2018 which is available on request and awaiting publication.
Democracy is a dialogue – not just an election, and not just a debate
This can be formal or informal, and for different purposes. These include choosing their representatives is the first place, informing and influencing developing policy and decision-making, and scrutiny of the outcomes. It can lead to partnership, and prepares a new generation of young leaders to enter in public life and Parliament itself.
Building on, and sharing good practice
Of course many young people already take part in, or organise initiatives that engage, educate, consult with, and promote their views, including youth-led campaigns. Many countries have developed national youth councils or parliaments to represent a collective voice. Some Parliaments already reach out to prepare their future ‘young electorate’ . For example the United Kingdom has a very good example of this, based at the Palace of Westminster, the Education and Outreach services encourage and support a wider understanding of Parliament and targets children and young people in particular. They also, with support from the Government and in partnership with the British Youth Council, engage more directly with elected young representatives such as the UK Youth Parliament and associated projects like the Youth Select Committee. There are also examples of individual politicians reaching out to young people, championing their causes, and political parties frequently have ‘youth wings’.
Sustaining and Embedding Impact
In the UK I have witnessed the impact of these initiatives scrutinising, informing and influencing policy in transport, education, and mental health, and there are instances of young people who have been involved in these initiatives, subsequently successfully standing for election to Parliament.
There is room to do more, and in particular to secure the future of this emerging partnership so that it is not so dependent on short-term funding, or changing Government policy. We need to value and embed it in our structures or constitution.
Consequently this campaign and offer of support is targeted more towards the decision-makers and scrutineers, the politicians and parties. In the short-term its aims to result in more invitations to engage, to be heard, to influence, to question or be partners, and in the long-term to debate and introduce structural reforms.
Youth-led and inspired
This is in response to calls from youth-led organisations such as the British Youth Council, to “talk to us, not about us” and many of the ideas are youth inspired. Going forward I would want to encourage youth leaders to be part of the thinking and design of innovation – working in partnership to be effective changemakers of the process as well as the causes.
For too long there has been a stand-off in the UK between young voters and politicians with declining turnouts and fewer youth–friendly policies. However more young people in recent years, empowered by youth-led initiatives, new media, and highlighted by mainstream media, started to engage with the issues – if not the politicians. There had been a number of voter-registration initiatives, but it was not until a political party, with a prospect governing, started appealing direct to young people with youth-friendly policies in 2017, that the mutual benefit of a potential partnership between the agenda of the future and the governance of the present, was realised. I hope that this success is sustained and its potential valued by all parties, and reported by the media.
My #iwill pledge – Youth Voices in Social Action – to Parliament
This pledge started to take shape for me in January 2017, as I spent more time reflecting on how I wanted to spend my year of semi-retirement from full time working, (as the CEO of the British Youth Council including the UK Youth Parliament). Whilst I still take on consultancy work, I have the freedom to volunteer and campaign on issues that are still important to me – namely the promotion of youth voice. So I made a pledge to the Step Up to Serve #iwill Campaign, which encourages people and organisations to promote opportunities for youth social action volunteers. I chose to promote and support more opportunities for young voice to influence social action projects in a range of settings – in the community, in the media, in the boardroom and in Parliament.
My experience of supporting young people made me realise that there was not a shortage of young people wanting to be heard, but a shortage of opportunities for them to be meaningfully engaged, particularly in visible formal settings within Parliament that leads to real influence. There are good examples but these are often not acknowledged or reported enough. It is my aim to shine a light on these, encourage more participation, and support the development of new innovative practice that engages both the young people and the politicians, hearing more Youth Voices in Parliament.
James Cathcart (Founder/”Director” YVH initiative)