By Jess Lee – action/2015 youth panelist
What would you change if you were a politician? This was a question posed to all the young people who attended last week’sÂ Â â€˜If We Ran Things’Â event at Channel4 hosted by Krishnan Guru-Murthy. ThisÂ eventÂ isÂ part ofÂ a campaignÂ thatÂ encouragesÂ young peopleÂ to tellÂ the UK governmentÂ what they would do if they were in charge. Â Young people and politicians filled the room, while a live twitter stream revealed the changes young people around the country would make #ifweranthings.
I went along to represent Media Trust, the charity I work for, but also as a member ofÂ theÂ action2015 youth panel. Action2015 is a campaign through which people around the world demand ambition from their governments in setting the new development agenda, the Sustainable Development Goals,Â to fight poverty, inequality and climate change. As youngÂ peopleÂ are anÂ essentialÂ part of thisÂ campaign,Â I wanted to find out how young peopleÂ in the UKÂ are engaging with politics and what they feel needs to change. TheseÂ are important conversations to have ifÂ we areÂ to successfully engageÂ UKÂ young people in discussions around theÂ Sustainable Development Goals.
Often we are told that young people don’t care, but throughout the evening,Â IÂ had the opportunity to listen first hand to young people whoÂ were mostlyÂ perplexed, disappointed andÂ vexed about the county’s current stateÂ â€“Â particularly for the under 25’s. It was an empowering and refreshing movement to be part of, as one by one, young people took to the stand to let their audienceÂ know what is important to them.
One person mentioned theÂ UK’s current â€˜outdated’ education system. SheÂ describedÂ how young peopleÂ struggle among intense pressure to gain A grades at GCSE and A level resultingÂ in them feeling disempowered to realise their full potential. And how young people currentlyÂ leaveÂ educationÂ knowing precise mathematics butÂ without a clue as to how to hold their own in a job interview.
Inequality and social mobility wereÂ recurring themesÂ throughout the evening. Laith, one young speaker,Â posed theÂ question:Â â€œhow can it be that we continue to cut welfare, when homeless people sleep rough next to newly constructed million pound flats?â€. AnotherÂ young womanÂ spokeÂ of her universityÂ experienceÂ Â where she wasÂ the only black girlÂ to graduateÂ from her course. SheÂ reflected onÂ the Â£9000 tuition fees, asking:Â â€œhow can we claim to stand for liberty and equality when a good quality education is reserved for a small minority at the top, and those of us bold enough and ambitious enough to aspire to this are shackled by financial implications?â€.
MPs got to have their say tooÂ and seized theÂ opportunity to show that they are listening to the nation’s young people. There were mixed reactions from theÂ crowd when one MP reinforced the sentiment that failing to vote is failing to have a say in the future. â€œPoliticians chase the vote. If you’re not registered,Â Â weÂ will create policies that are attractive to those who are,Â the over 25s.â€Â Many young people in the room reacted sharply to this point. Â â€œHow can you expect young people to vote when they don’t know anything about politics?â€
It would be wrong to suggest that these young people are not political engaged. Young peopleÂ are fully aware of the issues that areÂ affecting them and others today in the UK. But theyÂ feel disconnected from their MPs and the wealth of confusing policy information at our disposal. â€˜Pale male and stale’ was a phrase coined to describe the MPs currently in Parliament. Even at thisÂ event aimedÂ atÂ creatingÂ dialogue between young people and politicians, theÂ speakersÂ wereÂ allÂ white men in their 50s. Where were the women speakers?Â Or MPs from BAME backgrounds?Â OneÂ young womanÂ Â commented:Â â€œI look at politicians and think,Â thereÂ is no one there that looks like meâ€.
SuddenlyÂ I became aware ofÂ Â theÂ lack of conversation aroundÂ how UK issues fit in withÂ global issues. In fact, IÂ had beenÂ so absorbed in conversations about voting in the UK, diversity in politics, employment rates, domestic abuse, the drug trade and affordable living, that I too almost forgot one of the main reasons for my attending in the first place; my interest in the next international development agenda. â€œWhy do you think there was a lack of conversation around international development?â€Â I asked one attendee. Her answerÂ did not surprise me:Â â€œI think it’s because we feel we have lots of our own problems here in the UK.â€Â In order for young people to want to understand the SustainableÂ DevelopmentÂ Goals,Â they need to understand how theÂ global issues which theseÂ goalsÂ addressÂ affect everyone everywhere. NotÂ just individuals in developing countries.
Reflecting on theÂ points raised and discussions held around the room, itÂ isÂ clear that to engage young people in importantÂ issues,Â we need to make information accessible, create a dialogue with young people and not just expect them to passively absorb information. Young peopleÂ clearly want to understand politics, engage their politicians and vote responsiblyÂ butÂ feelÂ their needs and opinions are not taken seriously. I hope to see many more events likeÂ â€˜If We Ran Things’, not just in the lead up to the upcoming election but beyond. I want to see young people finding their voice, while the people in power get ready to listen.
Interested in discussing this topic yourself? Restless Development will be holding its ‘Reframing the Vote‘ panel discussion on the 2nd of April 2015 from 6.30pm.