* November Article of the Month *
* 2012 Article of the Year*
For young people, being given the extraordinary opportunity to sit and debate in the most prestigious of parliaments is a triumph. The UK Youth Parliament's members are the only citizens who are allowed to sit on the green Commons chairs besides elected MPs; 307 of them did so yesterday. The majority of them are not of the age where they can vote and contribute to their society. The UKYP sitting is more representative of British society than the government itself. Yesterday saw the first woman ever to speak at the dispatch box wearing a hijab. That alone proves how much impact young people can make. Over 250,000 young people, many of whom are under the age of 18, used their voices to tell the government what five issues they feel are the most important for them in Britain today.
Watching the dispatch box so closely was surreal and I almost felt as if I had been absorbed into famous photos of Prime Ministers and MPs hollering across the House. The passion that young people have for their society comes across in the most powerful way. So many MYPs wanted to get their voices heard, jumping, waving, flapping and those who were heard were more dignified and honourable than some politicians who sit there on a daily basis. We were supporting each other’s passions and points whether or not we agreed with each other, together we showed politicians, journalists, and the public, that our generation is not one of rioters or hooligans like the media too often portrays.
The campaign which the Youth Parliament has decided to take on for the next year is a national curriculum that prepares us for life. This is a fantastic opportunity for young people to modernise our curriculum to fit our needs and wants for political education, sex and relationship education, and financial education. We want a youth led review on what we learn and how we learn it. Our citizenship curriculum at the moment, does not teach young people of the future, for the future. It doesn't teach us about the multicultural British society we live in. That's what we want to change.
A national minimum wage for all, one of the other issues debated, reflects young people's concern over having to find ways in which to fund their education. We should not live in a society where young people are discriminated against in the workplace, even if they do a better job than someone who is older. Moreover, we cannot allow a society where some young people are forced to work because they cannot get to school or pay for textbooks. Equal marriage reflects young people's want for a tolerant and equal society that caters for ALL. We cannot pride ourselves as being leaders of freedom if there are citizens in our country who cannot freely marry the person they love. There was a unanimous feeling that gay and lesbian people should be given the right to marry, however the issue does not relate to the daily lives of young people and was not chosen as our next campaign because of this. Getting ready for work also sends out an important message- that young people need to be insured over their working futures, especially with excessively high rates of youth unemployment. This issue could be incorporated into a curriculum that prepares us for this, because we all have to go to work. Finally, cheaper and more accessible transport for all demonstrates that young people should not have to struggle to go to school or work whilst paying high fares for poor services. This was our campaign last year and unfortunately we’ve made little progress. The fact that it was back for debate this year, and I would guess it may return next year, shows those in charge of transport that something has to be done to improve it.
Yesterday young people demonstrated that people as young as 12 have an intelligent and articulate view on their world. But they do not have a say in it. Despite all their contributions to their communities, they cannot truly belong to it without being allowed to vote. I was 17 when I sat in the House of Commons. Yesterday I couldn’t decide how my society is run. I did not have a say in my community, or a say in my education, because I did not have the right to vote.
Today I am 18 and finally allowed to belong to my society; I have definitely waited long enough. It seems that nowadays politicians only feel answerable to those who cast their vote in an election. In a day my political voice has dramatically changed. It now has a value to politicians who will want my vote. It has an authority because it means that I now have a say in how my community is run and can hold those who don't do it properly to account. Yesterday I saw 12 year olds with as much passion and dedication to their society as myself. But their voice is not as valued even though it is just as valuable. The youth parliament is changing that. It's giving young people of all backgrounds a voice to be listened to. Despite votes at 16 not being debated at the UKYP Debate, I believe it’s an important and necessary issue for young people. With the new campaign, we hope that political education can be introduced as part of the national curriculum so that all young people are aware of how our society works. There are arguments that 16 year olds should only be allowed to vote if they are educated about politics; this is another step towards achieving that goal.
Unfortunately, despite trying my best to catch the attention of the speaker, I didn't get the opportunity to speak at the House of Commons debate. But the experience has been absolutely amazing. The chamber is much smaller and atmosphere more intense than our TV screens reveal. For someone who feels that politics runs through their blood, it almost felt natural to take up a seat. I can't wait to vote. When I get the opportunity to do so, I'll cherish it with the knowledge that women of the past died for that right. And maybe in the distant future, I'll return to Westminster to take a seat once again, only next time as a Member of Parliament. Politicians and journalists will promote the viable and valuable voice that young people have in society today. The biggest question and debate of them all: will they listen and take on board what we have said?
By Soila Apparicio