The issues of access to youth rights and young people getting involved in their politics is something which I am passionate about, and so too for the young people we represent. I was honoured to be able to represent them, and work on these issues at the recent EU Youth Conference in Rome.
Joined by over a hundred youth representatives from across Europe, and armed with the research and opinions of young people, youth advocates, and experts from across the UK, we set the ground work the UKYA’s work this year.
Through this conference, we set the ball rolling on EU youth policy by exchanging youth views, issues, and solutions, and creating recommendations to European and national decision-makers. We aim to place young people at the heart of policy formation.
I am used to being on the outside of the policy process, trying to influence change through campaigns, but the EU Structured Dialogue process puts faith in young people to lead the change we need. This process should be applauded, and encouraged on a local, regional, and national level, and for the topic of youth political participation I can think of no better process to give this issue the attention it needs!
And these areas do require work, we have seen that when young people are empowered and engaged in politics and using our rights, we flourish, as seen in the Scottish referendum with over 80% of 16 and 17s voting, and many more getting active talking about politics from cafes to classrooms. But there are still barriers where many cannot access their rights and struggle with a political system that must do better.
And this is where our European policy and campaigns can help. The recommendations, if enacted, have the power to reach hundreds of millions of young people across the continent. We hoped to harness this opportunity at the Youth Conference by working in groups with a focus on key areas such as education, income, and housing, where we discussed the findings of our research and the issues within the political environments across the UK.
The proposals which came forward recognised that for young people to access their rights they need the support to be more autonomous; we need to see a youth guarantee (which is about jobs) extended to housing and income support – including alternative credit opportunities for example; and we need an advocate to support youth rights across Europe.
We set the ball rolling on improving youth political participation by stating that young people need a place in politics by developing a responsive political system that responds to our needs; there should be political education to give people the tools they need to engage with their democracy, the youth voice should play a part in the political system, and our rights need to be guaranteed.
This is just the start of the journey on these issues, these recommendations will go forward at a European level, and at home we’ll be working with young people to make sure they are on the agenda, and that our hopes and aspirations are addressed. And they must be, because we cannot allow ourselves to be dealing with the same issues a generation from now; we have shown our hunger, demonstrated the benefits, and made our demand clear – this is our time, and together, the work starts here!