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Me, You, and the EU

On Friday 24 June it was announced that 52% of people in the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union. There are some core groups who are left feeling frustrated and pained by this result: Scotland, Northern Ireland, the City of London, and young people.

Across the UK, 73% of 18-24 year olds voted to remain – this is in stark contrast to the voting habits of 45+ year olds who voted, on average, 58% to leave the EU, as seen on this chart published by the BBC using Lord Ashcroft Polls data.

While the North East all but unanimously voted to leave, young people in the region still voted to remain. In the months leading up to the referendum, Youth Focus: North East worked with over 1,000 16-25 year olds using different methods of engagement to raise political awareness and education and involve young people in the debate from a completely neutral standpoint.

We hosted pizza and politics evenings encouraging young people to informally explore their thoughts and opinions about the European Union, and we held two hustings events in Gateshead and Stockton and live-streamed both events on Facebook gathering hundreds of views. We developed workshops and delivered these in schools and youth work centres around the region offering impartial information and encouraging conversations, we interviewed young people on the streets of Gateshead, and we created an online opinion poll to track the views of our regions 16-25 year olds, offering them the opportunity to change their mind on how they would vote up until 20 June giving us an insight into how our young people in our region felt about the EU referendum.

From May through to June 1,054 young people voluntarily engaged with us and of that number 63% (662 votes) told us that they would like the UK to remain a member of the EU.

We are now in a position whereby the medium to long-term future of all young people in the UK is out of their control, but in the hands of those who have reaped the benefits of life in the EU and now look to take those opportunities and experiences away from young people.

Despite an increased turnout of young voters, compared to last year’s general election, the amount of young people turning up to vote is still comparatively lower than the rest of the country.

Many mainstream politicians stated that young people were key to this campaign but, aside from a poorly executed – and patronisin’ – poster campaign and a flopped music festival, nothing was done to improve young people’s knowledge and understanding on the pros and cons of what Brexit would mean or what the EU is or does.

We spoke with several 16-17 year olds who told us that a lot more needed to be done to teach young people about politics at an earlier age. Many of those who engaged with us said that not enough information was given to them and there were concerns that jargon and terminology specific to this debate was not being explained.

If one positive has come about as a result of the referendum it’s this: People are talking about politics. Young people have been speaking with each other, with their parents and grandparents and also with their school staff and youth workers about the result as they try and get their heads around the possible incoming changes.

We need to figure out a way to harness this energy and interest and focus it in positive directions. Regardless of the result, it looks like a second referendum isn’t on the agenda, so we need to look to the future now and how young people’s views can be heard when it comes to discussing how we exit the EU. We need to look at how young people can help to make their own communities better through positive action. We need to look at engaging with young people at an earlier age and instilling politics as a part of their lives, not an afterthought.

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