Thanks to The Young Women's Trust and the Good Youth Forum funded by Trust For London, I had the opportunity to have a tour of the Houses of Parliament in May and then a round table discussion with Labour MP's. It was part of a piece of work around the development of services for women and girls and why young people don't vote.
As I wandered around the lavish surroundings and listened to the guide proudly point out the gold leaf decoration and paintings and as big as a bus I was filled with such sadness. How can we justify this elaborate expense when people in my community are accessing food banks, having their benefits (lifeline) sanctioned and being evicted on a regular basis? Lords can claim £300 expenses for a few hours discussion but Job Seekers receive less than £60 for a week? I appreciate the historic value of the building but I can't see the social benefit in such expenditure. This was also noted by the youth forum representatives.
Having previously met with MP Gloria De Piero, the youth forum had this time done their research, prepared their questions and statements and were well equipped to make their point. Young people are not using their right to vote out of ignorance, there are multiple factors influencing this decision. Some of the MP's present listened intently and Gloria appeared to truly want to understand why young people weren't voting. I was very unimpressed with the dismissive input of a particular MP. If she didn't want to be there she shouldn't have bothered and if she didn't want to answer questions then her attendance wasn't necessary. She really did let their side down and didn't represent herself very well. She had young women in front of her who she could have inspired but instead she reinforced their negative opinions of politicians whilst Gloria did her best to retain her positive attitude.
She tried her best to engage the young women into becoming politicians but as they explained 'we're youth workers, we don't want to be politicians!' And they are very good at what they do, their work is needed and valued and they make a real change to the lives of the people they work with. Each one has a powerful story to tell, has learned a lot through life experiences and has now gone on to share that learning to help others. They are a true testament to 'broken Britain'. They were representing the women and girls who feel they don't have a voice, who don't show up in many statistics because they're homeless, or not in receipt of JSA but unemployed, don't report social issues or crimes against them for fear of having their children removed, the vulnerable people who this government is failing.
The group wanted to ask questions such as, with huge cuts in government funding out statutory youth service has been demolished with the pressure falling in the voluntary sector, who will support and represent our vulnerable young people and how will you reach and inspire this group to vote? And, was the last discussion just a publicity stunt to show Labour trying to engage with young people? And with cuts to NHS funding who will support the increasing number of young people with mental health? They had prepared lots of interesting questions and statements but lack of structure and time made it difficult to decipher any clear answers or actions at all. Even a straight forward answer to a question posed to an MP asking if she had accessed housing benefit was deflected and went unanswered. This did not fill young women with inspiration or trust only reinforced the view that young women were angry, frustrated and needed something drastic to inspire them and others to engage in the political system.
Other than this, I think the day was productive. The forum representatives are now inspired to develop this piece of work despite their lack of trust in politicians. But learning is good and knowledge is power. The conclusion the youth forum has come to and has been reinforced today is 'they do not want to vote for people, they want to vote for policies'. The people need to be truly passionate about what they stand for and they can be held accountable for their policies and subsequent practices. They're a pretty smart bunch of young women in my opinion!
The Youth Forum will continue to consult with and support other young people on these and other issues they face because they truly do care passionately about what they do. In spite of all the adversity my communities are facing there are still people willing to help others, willing to stand up and say look how you're affecting us and fight for change. Let's hope someone who can do something about all this is listening!