THE BLOG

It's The Young Wot Swung It

09/06/2017 17:00
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It was the election that nobody expected and the result we woke up to this morning has ended just as it began - by taking the country by surprise.

It may be some time yet before we know what factors have led to no party being able to achieve an overall majority. But early indications show one clear trend in particular; to coin the Sun's famous 1992 front page, 'it's the young wot swung it'.

Young people have turned out to vote in numbers far higher than in previous years. In the previous four general elections since 2001 youth turnout had only been around 40%. In 2015, just 43% of people aged 18 to 24 voted but we've seen an upwards trajectory since then with 64% of young people going to the polls in the EU referendum. Reports today suggest that a whopping 72% of 18-24 year olds have turned out to vote in this election.

I've blogged before about how important political engagement is in changing lives, and it's clear that by using their vote in this election, young people have contributed, at least in some part, to shifting our political landscape. By going out and using their vote, young people have shown politicians that they must not be underestimated - they must have their voices heard.

Initially this campaign was dominated by Brexit, as we'd all expected, but in the last few weeks, the surprise of the snap election and unexpected manifesto pledges turned to shock, anger and grief as the terrorist attacks in Manchester and London forced the campaigns to focus on security.

But throughout the campaign, with all its twists and turns, we have heard very little about the needs of our children and young people.

The Westminster election manifestos of the seven largest political parties in England, Scotland and Wales contain almost 135,000 words, yet only 210 of them are the words 'children' or 'children's'.

With the pace of social change in the UK set to accelerate in the coming years, our new government, whatever form that will take, needs to do more to confront the new and emerging challenges our children and young people face.

Through our work with 270,000 of the most vulnerable children, young people families and carers every year, Barnardo's has a unique understanding of what it means to grow up in the UK today.

The inescapable commercialisation of childhood, the insidious influence of social media, the ever-present risk of exploitation and the pressures on our children's mental health all demand urgent attention.

We need an ambitious vision for every one of the millions of children living in the UK. The growing attention given to children's mental health and wellbeing and online safety and the decision to make relationships and sex education mandatory in all schools are important developments that have the potential to really improve the lives of children. But the new government needs to maintain this momentum.

A significant step forward would be a cabinet-level Minister for Children and Families. Wales is already leading the way with the Welsh Government's Cabinet Secretary for Communities and Children to ensure that children are at the centre of what they do.

Having such a role at the heart of government raises the volume of children's voices in decision-making and sends a clear message about where the priorities of our society lie.

The next parliament will have a lasting legacy, well beyond our relationship with the EU. Our children's lives are set to change radically, and so too must our government's response.

As the results last night show, our young people will be watching - and voting.

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