I was honoured to be asked by Youth Focus North West to represent them at the annual Labour and Conservative Party Conferences this year. Both parties had allocated a session dedicated to young people, so a youth representative seemed fitting, although you would be surprised at how many ‘youth’ events only include a handful of young people.
First up was the Labour Party Conference. This session was focusing on ‘unseen, not heard? Young people’s voice’. The key themes were how youth voices could be amplified in organisations. I was able to speak about my experiences of youth voice, and how I had been positively impacted by youth workers and European projects. This led us on to Brexit, and how it would impact young people in new ways. I raised the concern of the availability of opportunities for young people - there is no reason for why young people should miss out because of decisions made by older generations. Schemes like Erasmus give young people the chance to try new things and grow as individuals. Our society seems to have a systemic issue in the way it views young people - we are viewed as delinquents and ‘no good’. Perhaps this was true 20 years ago, but if anything, young people are more mature, mobilised and munificent, in their genuine drive to protest for the belief in a cleaner, united world. The conference allowed me to explain how we needed change - young people still don’t have a voice at the highest levels of society, which arguably impact on us the most.
Next I attended the Conservative Party conference. The theme was ‘ambitious for young people’. There were only 30 minutes in the session compared to 60 minutes for Labour and considerably less people present. Nevertheless, a platform is a platform, and I proceeded to discuss my concerns for young people - how we are consistently underestimated and devalued in society, despite the climate strikes and black lives matter movement showing young people at the forefront of these issues. I also talked about my own experience of how I felt the government had neglected young people, most recently with the GCSEs and A Levels fiasco. The session’s focus was about being ambitious for young people, and the panellists were asked to explain what this meant to us. For me, ambitious is the wrong word. It should be commonplace for young people to be actively involved in every level of society and organisations! This is an abstract concept for many adults, and here we see it labelled as ‘ambitious’. Is it really far fetched to allow young people a voice? Many will argue that my presence at the session was an indicator that young people do have a voice, but is that another example of a tick box exercise? Giving young people a place at meetings to symbolise they are important but not taking on board their thoughts?
But the question should be for both parties, how much of a voice do young people actually have? Yes, we have Members of Youth Parliament and youth activists speaking out on issues, but how much weight do they hold? Are we really listened to by those in power?
Having a Minister for Youth who represents our views and youth advisers to give input on government policy - this is the future and what our society needs desperately. As I emphasised to my fellow panelists, young people are the next generation. While adults may not care about us until we reach 18 (voting age), the decisions they make will affect our future. We will deal with the economic crisis, the housing crisis, the environmental crisis and so on. The way we are treated by adults will impact how we treat the generation after us. Young people are a tool - it is up to the political parties and decision makers to recognise our true worth, and the changes we can drive forward when motivated and passionate to solve your generation’s issues. Boris Johnson and Keir Starmer were not present at the meetings - youth voice is not a priority or on the agenda for the parties, which is disappointing.
Now more than ever, we need our political parties to step up and include young people in policies before they alienate an entire generation of incoming voters. The COVID pandemic has affected our mental health, our university choices and career prospects. At a time when we would rely on our youth services, this is sadly not an option for too many young people, with the youth service sector suffering massive cuts in recent years.
Young people need to become the priority. Until then, we will protest in the streets for our demands for a better world, because leaders, this just is NOT good enough.
Ishaa Asim, Manchester