Youth Councils are a forum which gives younger people a voice in representing their views in a decision-making.
Since the emergence of the European Youth Forum in 1996, Youth Councils have re-emerged in supporting members through youth clubs and educational programmes.
Growing internet campaigns, such as Votes at 16, have improved political education in schools by having a positive effect on teenagers. According to Votes at 16, 1.5 million 16-17 year olds are currently denied the vote while changes to the voting arrangement have been proposed by implementing online voting.
YourSpace West Sussex, whose members are currently re-forming and formulizing themselves, have developed an action plan to increase the group membership. West Sussex County Council, offer support through group sessions enabling young people to tackle issues for themselves and affect meaningful change, by putting their community first.
Pandora Ellis who works for West Sussex believes Youth Councils are important in a political society with young people ‘learning they are valid members of society, with rights and responsibilities’
Volunteering and raising awareness to Youth Councils can help influence and understand how local governments work
Former minster Damian Green opposed Cameron’s view, of keeping the voting age at 18, and expressed support in reducing the voting age to 16.
‘They are (16-17 year olds) a proportion of the electorate. The reason I am in favour, would be to get people into the habit of voting at an early age. I’d hope they would carry on and do that for the rest of their lives. It is a really important decision in their lives explaining that we are engaging and can express their own views in politics’.
UK Youth, a national charity who reach 693,000 young people through a network of youth clubs and projects, enable members to learn about the political process.
Communications Manager with UK Youth Joanna Birch-Phaure believes ‘Many young people get to take part in youth parliaments, youth council’s, young mayor and other ‘practice’ opportunities that might help them engage in politics and democracy.
She continues ‘UK Youth have designed a free resource which can be used with groups of young people to engage them with the idea of democracy and hopefully help them feel like voting is worthwhile. Bite the Ballot and NUS are some of the organisations who are campaigning for the reengagement which saw only 51% of 18-25 year olds vote during the 2010 General Election. (direct.gov)
UK Youth have designed The Democracy Challenge Toolkit, which introduces democracy and voting to people aged 16 and over, through fun and educational activity sessions.
Arguably not all 16-17 year olds are politically aware some not knowing their left from their right wing, with GCSE politics not being compulsory in schools. Joining pressure groups and Youth Councils help make an impact on our political choice.
West Sussex Youth Member Greg Cox, who is about to vote for the first time this election suggests how more young adults can get involved with their local youth council, by offering better support to ‘local authorities’ in educating 16-17 year olds about ‘local government of how it works and what it is responsible for’ by managing groups locally and specifically for youth engagement.
The support of other Youth Council members helps create debate and interest as Greg knows, “To encourage young people to have an understanding and an interest in their community, society and county with youth councils by showing how a group of individuals regardless of their political view can influence change in their local community’.
Building social skills and personal development benefit Youth Council members, as Ellis further explains, bringing 16-17 year olds together to be more ‘social and have fun’ by training members to be more confident and including them in the planning and decision making can ‘help their voices to be heard’.
Ellis continues, “By making politics about issues they are interested in; issues affecting them or people they know can move politics away from the politicians grey suits and old people to current challenges that young people face on a daily basis’.
Graduate Multimedia Journalist, Online Editor at CIO UK and contributing writer at Culturefly and Contact Music.