A couple of weeks ago, I had the privilege of attending the UK Youth Parliament’s Annual Sitting, representing the views of young people in my constituency, Mendip, for the UKYP national manifesto that would be sent to the government. But more significantly, it is an event where young people who are involved in advocacy can meet, share ideas and learn skills that would help them in their work.
The three day conference has taken place every year since 2000 and is the biggest recurrent youth democracy event in Europe. It’s significant for the government; the Sitting provides the most accurate portrayal of young people’s views from everything from tuition fees to mental health service, transport, climate change, and many other issues that are important to Britain’s youth.
Though perhaps it is more significant for young people across the country who don’t feel like they have a voice. When EMA is abolished and tuition fees are hiked – but the winter fuel allowance, bus passes and free TV licenses remain intact – we lose faith in politicians and can’t trust them when they say “we just can’t afford it”. This has terrible knock-on effects for future engagement in the political system.
In fact, the keynote speaker at the Annual Sitting was Vince Cable, Secretary of State for Business, who was responsible for raising tuition fees in 2010. His argument was that in order to keep UK universities as some of the best in the world, students need to contribute; otherwise they would be subject to same level of cuts as other areas of government spending. That’s a valid point, but not one I necessarily agree with.
In Scotland, university remains free for all – it’s seen as an investment in society and the economy; education should be free for all. When the Business Secretary was asked why EMA had been cut as well, he simply said that it was rather unfair that it had been scrapped and gave us no actual explanation.
When it came to debating the motions put forward for the national manifesto, the main issues affecting young people in Somerset – an equal minimum wage, more apprenticeships and more youth services – we passed, though to what extent the government will listen will naturally vary. What’s important is that we now have a document that meaningfully represents what matters to young people across the UK.
The Sitting itself was closed with an inspirational speech by Pam Warhust CBE, who had set up an interesting campaign called ‘Incredible Edible’. In her town in Todmorden, she and a small group of people started planting vegetables and fruit trees in disused patches of ground, without permission. This has now grown to a global network, with over 1000 other communities across the world doing something similar.
It showed us that a small group of determined individuals can make a massive positive difference. However, maybe it was also a reminder that if you want to see real change where you live, you can’t rely on politics – you have to do it yourself.
By Jake Pitt