Youth Work Week has arrived and with it the theme, Have Your Voice Heard. It’s topical right now as young people’s voice is becoming harder to hear.
Cuts to youth services at local authority level plus a raft of policies which bring negative impacts, from curtailing housing benefit to changes to unemployment benefit, affect young people’s desire and motivation to engage with authorities and make their voice heard.
Added to that the introduction of the living wage, for over 25s only, stubbornly high youth unemployment and the scene is set for an increasingly invisible generation, disillusioned with those in positions of power, from elected members, MPs through to employers, officials and even teachers.
Yet despite this it feels as though many young people are registering their opinions and some are more politicised than ever. The Scottish devolution referendum seemed to be a turning point with a substantial young people engagement. In May’s general election more young people registered and voted than ever before, with a turnout of 58% amongst 18-24 year olds.
Since then thousands of young people have channelled their protest at the mainstream through the figure of Jeremy Corbyn, and on the back of their support he has been swept to a position of power as leader of the opposition.
This year has also seen a rise in young people campaigning and organising in support of youth centres and projects threatened with closure.
Other young people have protested for reform of electoral services, lobbying for votes for 16 year olds, and for a fairer electoral system which represents them better. With a host of other elections including the EU referendum, national assemblies and mayoral elections on the horizon the more engaged young people can be in democracy the better for all of us.
I have always believed that young people are politically active in many ways – through charities, petitions, individual causes, even if they do not vote. Yet a recent study pours cold water on this claiming that it is more to do with the circumstances of the time than individuals – with the 1960s being the most active and generations progressively less active since then.
Over the past week or so youth workers have emailed me about what they’re planning for Youth Work Week. Whilst not overtly political many are deeply politicised – involving helping young people know their rights, lobby for new facilities, make a film about what they think of services in their community. These are vital first steps to becoming an engaged citizen and it’s heartening to see it’s alive and well.