THE BLOG

Stop Treating Young People Like a Once a Year Boxing Day Sale

22/01/2016 14:34 GMT | Updated 21/01/2017 10:12 GMT

Next May we'll have the opportunity to decide the Mayor of London for the next four years. And, with many predicting a tight race for the London Mayoral elections, all is up for grabs for young Londoners.

However, the biggest problem over the past few elections have been that young people are treated like a once a year 'Boxing Day' sale. The media, politicians and political institutions are all guilty of engaging with young people only during election seasons.

The issues that young people face in London today are more relevant than ever. London is currently not working for young Londoners. We already have a crisis whereby too many people are currently paying more than half of their income towards rent. And, there seems to be no limit on the annual increase of travel costs in London.

We are in danger of living in age whereby young people feel that they are powerless in making change and that politicians do not represent their best interests' but are only relevant when it comes to the outcome of elections. But, this shouldn't just be about elections. We are talking about our future generation. It should not be a choice. It should be a responsibility for politicians to engage with young people.

Those who have persistently argued that young people do not care about politics completely disregard the fact that our political institutions are not reflective of our wider society. Perhaps the lack of representation in itself is a major obstacle in engaging with young people. Soon after becoming the youngest ever Councillor in Hackney, I received an invite to a young councillor's network conference that had an age criteria of 40 and below. However, there is no need to be shocked, as this is only normal considering that the average age of a Councillor in the UK is 60. Just to put this in context for you, that statistic means that the average councillor in the UK would be older than my parents. So, I ask - how is it that we expect young people to engage with our political institutions, if they feel that those institutions do not represent them?

Yes, it is true that most young people are put off Westminster-type politics, but to be quite frank, who isn't? In an interview with Nicola Sturgeon just before the general elections, she told me that this was the main reason why the UK Parliament needed reform - in order to reflect the communities that it is meant to represent.

Young people do care about the issues that affect our day-to-day lives and there are young people who are more than capable of holding office in the political chambers that govern us. I would just like to share a few young leaders with you, as an example of what young people are capable of when given the opportunity.

Meet Grace Campbell. Grace is a student, writer and a film maker. More than just her titles, Grace is a very successful creative leader in the digital world. She has managed to raise awareness to thousands of people about feminist issues through the use of digital means. She currently writes for Elle UK, Cosmopolitan, and the Guardian. Check out her Face To Face interviews with world leaders.

Meet Sebastian Kurz. Sebastian is the Foreign Minister of Austria and the youngest Foreign Minister in the history of the European Union. He is the equivalent of Phillip Hammond, who is the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs in the UK. Just to give you some context, some of his recent responsibilities have included meeting counterparts from other states across the world to discuss new threats of terrorism and the growing concern around climate change.

Meet Mhairi Black MP. Mhairi was elected as the youngest ever Member of Parliament since the 1880s at the age of just 20 in May 2015. If you thought that she has little experience, have a look at her maiden speech, which had record views and certainly did not give the impression that she did not know what she was talking about nor had little experience to be an MP.

Meet Kenny Imafidon. Kenny is a political commentator and an adviser on youth policy. Kenny's story is an inspiration to many young Londoners who have grown up with limited opportunities and are aspiring to make change in their communities. He is an award-winning author of The Kenny Reports and acts as an ambassador for Bite the Ballot.

Meet Cllr Khayer Choudhury. Khayer was elected last year at the age of 24 in the London Borough of Redbridge. He is one of the few elected representatives that I know, which are taking digital democracy to the next level. A first for British politicians, his primary social media platform is Instagram where he engages his younger constituents and followers on a daily basis. At times, he receives more casework on Instagram than via email which is groundbreaking in itself.

We now live in a digital age. Our politicians and institutions need to do much more to make politics relevant to the new generation of young people. And, there are lots of great opportunities for politicians and institutions to engage with young people through using new forms of communications.

The #DareToDream London project led by MyLifeMySay engages the London Mayoral candidates and young people through the use of social media. You simply tweet your policy idea and add the #DareToDream alongside the mayoral candidates twitter handles.