Network of Regional Youth Work Units England blog

A Network of Regional Youth Work Units, in England, collaborating across regions to promote good youth work and young people’s voices.

When will we listen?

Votes at 16It has been an interesting week or two with the Scottish referendum and the start of the Party Conference season.

To see people in Scotland be so engaged in the debate and turning out in their millions (an 85% turnout) was really exciting after the dismal debate and turnout for Police Commissioner elections, local elections and even general elections held in recent times. The prospect of real change, whether that was what you wanted or what you didn’t want, clearly motivated people.

It was also fantastic to see young people of 16 and 17 able to vote – and using that vote. I am looking forward to seeing the breakdown of voting to see exactly what the turnout was for that age group. There was a lot of coverage of the referendum, with papers and television using some wonderful photos of enthusiastic and excited young voters exercising their right to vote for the first time.

However, there wasn’t much thought or comment on the wider impact on levels of democratic engagement among young people and how they become engaged in politics. A number of articles, like this one on the BBC with the headline ‘Should 16-year-olds get the vote following referendum?’ start to discuss the rights and wrongs of young people aged 16 and 17 having the right to vote but they do not reference the campaigns and debates led by young people.

There was no discussion on, or recognition of, the Votes at 16 campaign, the League of Young Voters, on the sterling work done by young people, the UK Youth Parliament and the British Youth Council. The fact young people held a select committee in parliament on votes at 16, that this campaign issue for UKYP was based on a ballot of over 470,000 young people – didn’t feature at all.

The debate is still being held in silos; adults talking to adults and young people talking to each other and some adults. It still feels as if this is something young people have done to them rather than being involved in. While some organisations are brilliant at working with and talking to young people, for most, and for local and national Government, it is not something that they think about or do particularly well.

At the recent annual Ofsted Further Education and Skills Lecture young people from Youthforia were asked to speak about the lessons and recommendations from the Youthforia Youth Employment Commission.

What the young people said was mirrored in the speech given by Lorna Fitzjohn. Here was an opportunity to hear directly from young people who live with the reality of policy, yet not one article mentioned their input. One young person told me, “I could see the journalist scribbling down everything the adult panel said, but when we started speaking, they put their pens down”.

Why are the ideas and suggestions of young people – based on actual lived experience – ignored, but the thoughts of adults, who can only imagine the impact of their decisions, are taken more seriously? Why is it so difficult to involve young people in developing and refining policy?

I hear a lot of concern about representation. As I look at the people that represent you and me and the people that make policy, I wonder how representative they are of the groups on whom these policies have an impact?

Young people are currently holding the annual Make Your Mark campaign to decide the five topics that will be debated by the UKYP in the House of Commons on 15 November and what will be the campaign issue for young people next year. Please encourage young people and youth groups to take part. What better way to promote votes at 16 than holding the largest ever youth ballot in the UK.

It might take some effort and it might take some resources to involve young people, but I think we would formulate and implement better policy in the long run and probably – as this is more often than not the key driving principle – save some money, too.


Elizabeth Harding – North West Regional Youth Work Unit


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This entry was posted on September 26, 2014 by in North West Regional Youth Work Unit and tagged , , , .
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