The UK Youth Parliament #MAKEYOURMARK ballot is published (header photo), and the polls are open. Anyone aged 11-18 in the UK can now vote for their priority campaign until 10th October through their local school/youth council/online. In recent years young volunteers have mobilised nearly a million of their peers to vote across the U.K. making it the largest consultation of young people in the country if not Europe. The annual debate of the five of these campaigns by the Youth Parliament in the House of Commons, was one of the highlights of my year when I was at The British Youth Council, but its the results of the popular vote that is a fascinating, sometimes surprising and even ahead of the curve the Westminster bubble. It’s what matters to next generation day-to-day because the campaigns are not only shaped by elected representatives, but they put them back to their electorate to prioritise them. This article is a brief review of the 10 campaigns chosen by the Youth Parliament to be on the 2018 ballot paper. Five (2 x UK wide and 3 devolved) will be debated in the House of Commons in November as part of Parliament week, the only time people other than MPs are allowed to debate in the chamber. We make our prediction of what we think will win, BUT only the youngest get to vote! Voting closes 10th October.
If you are aged 11-18 and living in the UK you can vote through your local youth council or registered school or online using the link at the end of this article.
The UK Youth Parliament and the Make Your Mark campaign are co-ordinated and managed by the UK’s official national youth council* , the charity, the British Youth Council, who manage the Youth Parliament and organise the annual youth debate in the House of Commons with Parliament, where two votes are held to choose both a national and devolved campaign. They and their supporters will subsequently lobby Government and decision-makers to respond, take action and hopefully inform and influence public policy. The results are recognised by the Government, and every year they send a Minister to listen and reply to the youth debate at the House of Commons in November. The Leader and Shadow Leader of the House open and close the debate, though we would like to see them make a commitment to make time for a follow up debate and response by MPs and Government and more MP’s could also reference the debates and the mandate. The House of Commons library will also prepare a briefing on all 10 topics.
MAKE YOUR MARK CHART TOP 10…. at No 1
No 1 Mental Health – “Mental health services should be improved with young people’s help and be available in schools” This topic has been an annual regular on the ballot in recent years with an increasing number of votes each year, and has been subsequently debated in the Youth Parliament Commons event. It went on to win the national vote in 2014 and 2015, becoming a national campaign. It was chosen as the subject of the Youth Select Committee and youth-led report in 2015, and is the only one (so far) to have a dedicated debate by MPs in Parliament. The Government acknowledged and followed some of its recommendations. Despite this, young people still raise the issue, especially drawing attention this year to the lack of accessible help in schools. Does its reappearance reflect an increasing problem, or better awareness and confidence to talk about it , or perhaps simply their frustration at the apparent lack of quantity and quality of response?
Last year (2017) it came fourth in the popular vote with 120,000 votes, and therefore wasn’t debated because only the top 3 devolved issues are chosen (Work Experience/Curriculum for Life and Transport were more popular). Perhaps this years campaign wording, which calls for services to be improved with young people’s help, and that services should be more accessible through schools, will mobilise more popular support. This summer (2018) we at Young Voices Heard have found mental health (and young suicide) to one of the most common issues chosen for a local ‘social action’ campaign by the National Citizens Service teams that we have visited, so I would not be surprised to find that this topic rises up to the top of the popular vote.
Previous Make Your Mark results: 2017/4th/120,000; 2016/6th/101,000; 2015/4th/108,000; 2014/4th/90,000;
No. 2 End Period Poverty – “Sanitary products are an essential item. The Government the the NHS should make them free and accessible for all who need it” Universally popular at the Youth Parliament ‘Annual Sitting’ in Nottingham this year and strongly tipped by us to be in the top three of the ballot, so no surprise to see it appear! This could prove to be a popular new entry that will propel it into the top five to be debated in the House of Commons for the first time by the youth parliament, especially given media coverage of the existing campaign and Tesco adverts. Girl Guiding UK have also championed this issue, ensuring it was adopted by the British Youth Council’s 2018 manifesto. Its a new entry to ‘Make Your Mark’ – so no previous voting record.
No. 3 Votes at 16 – “Give 16 and 17 year-olds the right to vote in all elections/referendums” Another annual regular which keeps coming back, perhaps with added momentum in the last 12 months from two Private Members Bills laid before Parliament, and growing support from MPs from all parties in Westminster (see separate article, www.YoungVoicesHeard.org.uk, on the voting patterns and fresh arguments), including the setting up of a new All Party Parliamentary Group on Votes at 16. It was also the subject of a BYC Youth Select Committee inquiry and report. However public opinion is yet to be convinced (though its shifting) and many young people who want the right to vote, also want better education to inform their choice. Many are reluctant to back votes at 16 because they dont feel equipped to do so, but it was successfully introduced alongside a programme of education in Scotland (now making it an issue of equal rights). It will be interesting to see if a direct link to democracy/citizenship education, will command more support and move the debate up a gear this year? This might result in new arguments being put forward, as the old ones have not changed enough minds, and a shift towards ‘more than’ just votes at 16, but a refreshed campaign for ‘Votes at 16 PLUS’ citizenship/democracy education.
Its a national UK wide issue (not devolved) and as one of only two UK-wide issues on the ballot – its highly likely to be one of the five topics debated under UKYP rules, (2 UK wide and 3 devolved ) but how high will it rank in the popular vote and will it reach the 2016 peak of 112,000?
Previous Make Your Mark results: 2017/5th/101,000; 2016/4th/112,000; 2015/7th/78,000; 2014/5th/88,000
4. Put and end to Knife crime “Too many young people’s lives are lost to knife crime; the Government need to do more to help end the knife crime epidemic” Although a new entry on the ballot in 2018, there has been growing concern at the amount of violence, hate and tragic waste of young lives, by young people and their representatives, who experience this first hand through friends and their own families, not just from reading the reports in the media. There have been localised youth-led campaigns, notably London, and although media interest can ebb and flow, it would appear that this is an enduring issue that is of its time again. How will it resonate across the wider #makeyourmark electorate, and if chosen, what ideas will emerge in the debate on how best the Government can help to address ‘knife crime’. Will the fact that young people are debating this issue prompt a more collaborative approach from Government and councils, and perhaps involve young representatives more visibly?
5. A curriculum to prepare us for life “Schools should cover topics like finance, sex and relationship education and politics” ‘Curriculum for Life’ has topped the popular vote three years running, been voted the national campaign by the Youth Parliament and the subject of a BYC Youth Select Committee, reflecting each new generations frustration with the current curriculum in schools. The original campaign listed up to seven subjects that should be included in a curriculum for life, which makes this a flexible campaign responding each year to a different priority as progress is made on others (eg Sex and Relationship Education/SRE) . Will this be the year to emphasise political education? or press on for the right content and universal access to SRE? The UK Youth Parliament was set up with the support of the Department for Education, but the role of ‘Youth Minister’ now sits with DCMS which has made it a challenge to have a direct dialogue with, and about Education policy. However last year, for the first time, a Sec of State for Education (Justine Greening MP) attended the UKYP debate. Will another top three popular vote catch the attention of the current Education Ministers team, to respond to an agenda that is consistently popular with each new generation coming through the Youth Parliament and the big vote.
Previous Make Your Mark results: 2017/1st/131,000; 2016/1st/142,000; 2015/1st 132,000, 2014/6th/81,000
No. 6. Support Youth Services “Youth Services help young people but in recent years they have been cut. Youth services need better financial support and security”
This topic was on the ballot in 2016 when “Fund our Youth Services – Dont Cut them” came 10th in the popular vote. Ever since public spending cuts started to close local services and youth clubs, youth representatives have spoken up in recognition and support for their “youth workers”, regularly paying tribute to those attending Youth Parliament debates in the public gallery of the House of Commons. Over the last year, through the consultation for a new Civil Society strategy, a fresh appreciation in public policy circles, of the relevance, importance and need for maintained youth services, elevating the role of youth workers. This has been accompanied by a debate about the need to strengthen statutory duties to provide securely funded services. So will this issue mobilise enough support from the popular vote to see it break into the top five this year? Will young people make the connection between youth work as a one way to support, not only youth participation, but some of the other challenges they face listed in the ballot – education for life, mental health..
No 7. Equal Pay for Equal Work “Give young people the same amount of pay if they are doing the same work as adults in the same job” A proposal that builds on the previously popular and regular call for equal minimum wage – which also points out the unfairness of different rates of pay for different ages, of the both the minimum and living wages. This campaign has been worded this year to focus on inequality. Its predecessor campaigns for an equal minimum wage hold the record for the biggest issue vote in #makeyourmark, recorded in 2015, when the “Living Wage” motion reached 209,000 and was also the 2nd most popular vote in 2014 with 175,000. Will it therefore be a surprise chart-topper when the final results are announced in October?
No 8 Lets tackle Homelessness “Every person should have a place to live and the opportunity to live comfortably. Lets make it happen and put a stop to homelessness”. The first time homelessness has made it onto the ballot (and it doesn’t specify that it’s youth homelessness). Its often assumed that young people only campaign on issues affecting them, but this is an example of an issue that affects all ages. It has always been a principle of youth participation and campaigning that young people can and will campaign for issues that matter to them, which can be universal. By doing so, they will find themselves in agreement with campaigners of all ages, and perhaps be part of a coalition or alliance.
No 9. Transport “Make public transport cheaper, better and accessible for all” The most frequent annual priority (appearing 5 out of 7 times in the top 5), This surprises most adults & politicians but not young people who are frustrated with unfair fares, and lack of access, especially to buses, where provision is so varied between local authorities. There is something clearly unequal and unfair about the way young people are treated according to their age and according to postcode. Whats unusual is that this issue does not also provoke similarly strong feelings from parents who often have to pay, or be, the alternative transport. [Possibly because they are unware of the variations between authorities?] The enduring popularity of this campaign is a good example of the difference between what adults think young people want and what youth people actually prioritise based on their day to day experience and it has translated into a campaign for free or cheaper bus passes. There has been progress at a local level with some discount or free bus passes being introduced, and it was the subject to a Youth Select Committee report which recommended local cheap/free bus schemes, something several national political parties have taken on board. When will politicians put free travel at the top of their manifesto – possible when young people and parents campaign together. Previous votes 2017/2nd with 128,000.
No 10. Welcome Refugees “Everyone deserves the right to live without fear of death and persecution so we believe that refugees should be welcome into communities in the UK” Another example of a caring campaign which sets out a basic human right for “everyone”. We’ve had several years of pictures and news reports of struggling families and children making their way across oceans and continents, not always successfully, to our shores. This has stirred up strong feelings, amplified by the debate on Brexit, and is clearly having an impact for young people in schools and communities. The UK Youth Parliament’s lives its diversity and inclusiveness, with many cultures and backgrounds elected amongst its own representatives, so its no surprise to me to see this cause being championed by them, led by representatives from my home county of Kent. I wonder how many Members of Youth Parliament and youth councils are former or current refugees, and to what extent this campaign will mobilise empathy and the support of the wider teen electorate.
Some of the topics in the top ten have common themes and overlaps. They call for ‘equality’, ‘social justice’, ‘human rights’, ‘better services’ and ‘reform’. Some affect everyone, all ages and some effect a minority, yet they still have broad support. They are all clearly issues young people feel strongly about, people they care about, and all will call for action.
Whatever wins – I would call on Government, Opposition, MPs, Journalists and decision-makers to respond to them all.
The largest consultation of young people will now take place with a popular vote prioritising a short-list. Make Your Mark rules only allow one vote on the ballot, which can make the winning top issues look like only a small percentage of the total vote support them – though I’m sure many would want to choose several of the issues. [If every young person have five votes each, or could rank the issues PR style, the result could be presented as part of a million vote mandate]. Whatever the voting method the results of the previous years have been a very good indicator, and predictor, of what matters to young people, with some consistently recurring issues that, together, produce a manifesto of campaigns that politicians and other decision-makers would do well to pay attention to. Young voters with voting habit are likely to be the older voters very soon. “Talk TO us, not ABOUT us” BYC
Vote Prediction – for The House of Commons debate
1/ Three x Devolved issues – Mental Health, Equal Pay for Equal Work, Curriculum 4 Life
2/ Two x UK wide issues – Votes at 16 and Welcome Refugees
For more information about Make Your Mark, or the Youth Parliament – check out the website www.ukyouthparliament.org.uk
11-18 ? You can VOTE here
For statistics and results of previous years see this great infographic http://www.ukyouthparliament.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017-Make-Your-Mark-Infographic-final.pdf More detailed data on local voting in each Local Authority is published in a report annually on the same website.
James Cathcart was the Chief Executive 2008-2016 of the British Youth Council which manages the UK Youth Parliament, and now manages and consultancy and mentoring network in support of youthvoice, working with local authorities, voluntary and private sector organisations, parliament and Government, and young people. For more info see www.youngvoicesheard.org.uk / @jamescatchats and email firstname.lastname@example.org
*The British Youth Council www.byc.org.uk & UK Youth Parliament www.ukyouthparliament.org.uk