Love or loathe it, we have to accept that the familiar polling station signs will be dusted off again soon. Perhaps it’s an election that no one had especially wanted, or even expected, but it will almost certainly have a profound impact on the future for children and young people across the UK. Not least because of what the future holds for a UK parted from the EU, but also because of the challenges surrounding democratic engagement, health and education which generate news headlines most days.
In many of these cases, these issues will soon reach a stage in which a last minute intervention will not simply be possible. Here is what I believe needs to change in the election now and in the future ahead, regardless of party colours:
Frequently, we are told about the extent of voter apathy and how young voters are losing out because of their disengagement with the political system, but chastising them for being in the wrong is simply not having the desired effect. By recognising the importance of younger citizens in governing, we have a better chance of attracting them to the ballot box. Some might say it’s a chicken and egg situation, but the purpose of government is to serve in all our interests and not the other way around. I believe that we should also consider:
- Introducing a formal consultation on how votes at 16 could become a reality and how it may be successfully reached out to this age group. o Creating a department on youth affairs (much like Ireland’s) or at least a Ministerial role which has much greater powers across departments in health, work and education to better represent the needs of young citizens (not just civic society).
- Producing a programme for teachers to introduce democratic life from Year 11 and the importance of exercising rights/responsibilities when moving past secondary education.
- Creating a single, impartial ‘Youth Manifesto’ that invites all parties to present their policies to young voters in one source, alongside a lasting platform (like the post-referendum Undivided) that would be used in order to help shape a party’s own policy.
- Introducing a taskforce to oversee how electronic participation, including voting, can be made possible and build a case for its suitability.
Enriching Education As seen in NCB’s own report on the extent and damage of children missing education, this sits as just one of many problems in schools that have been reported in the media. One example of progress comes in the compulsory status of Sex and Relationships Education (SRE), but its design is very much yet to be decided. Here is what I believe also needs to be addressed after the vote:
- We need to secure the future of at least basic youth services in local authorities and ensure that it becomes statutory for councils to provide support and opportunities.
- Too many schools are not able to support pupils with additional needs, like autism, and are not properly equipped to meet good standards. Ensuring those outcomes are improved must be a priority.
- Non-academic subjects, including Citizenship and applied maths, deserve to be incorporated as part of a student’s development and made beneficial for non-comprehensive schools, if not compulsory.
There is little to be said that is not already out there about the continued difficulties around mental health for children and young people. However, it seems that little attention is being given as to what is being achieved after the implementation of these strategies (like the government’s Future in Mind) and it feels very much in doubt as to what the plan is now and will be in the future. This is what I think needs to happen soon:
- We need to ensure there is a clear strategy for all Clinical Commissioning Groups across the UK on how budgets on child’s mental health should be spent and not to be redirected according to their own wishes.
- We need to extend services to accommodate people up to 25 and tailor the transition process of each individual to adult services (if needed). o We need to implement findings of the Lenehan Review, with particular regard to young disabled people who are living in hospital settings, to find a better pathway for these individuals.
- We need to work with specialist charities when creating policy to ensure that any new measures best serve the interest of young people.
The issues that I’ve raised here are just a small sample of what I think the new government must consider in the years that lie ahead. Young people need and deserve to be part of that process if our democracy is to be safe in an uncertain future.