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In conversation with Maurizio Cuttin

Maurizio Cuttin is a 22-year-old representing the United Kingdom's young people in some of the world's most recognisable political institutions. Cuttin has been elected Deputy Member of Youth Parliament, a Youth G7 UK Ambassador, and served on several UN Youth Forums. Since September 2021, Cuttin has served as the British Youth Council's elected UK Young Ambassador to the European Youth Forum. In April 2023, Cuttin was elected by the European Youth Forum membership as a Member of the Council of Europe's Advisory Council on Youth for the 2024-25 mandate. He has also worked with the EU's Delegation to the UK, the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) and the European Parliament's CULT Committee on issues relating to Erasmus+ and strengthening the broader EU-UK youth relationship.


In this conversation, Cuttin talks about the political disenfranchisement of young people, why the youth sector needs proper funding, how meaningful youth engagement benefits democracy, and why he advocated for refugees and asylum seekers.

How and why did you get involved in international politics?


Almost by accident. I started at the local level after being elected to the Reading Youth Council. I was quickly promoted within the Youth Council, first to Democracy Officer managing the Make Your Mark ballot and then to Reading's Deputy Member of Youth Parliament – a role I served in until I left for university.


Then, Covid hit.

I was stuck in my room, thinking about what was happening in the world, and I wanted to get involved and be useful - so I looked to the United Nations. I was always determined to work for the UN. So, every couple of days, I typed phrases like 'UK youth apply' and 'UN youth apply' into Twitter. I applied for different opportunities and was selected to participate in a few UN Youth Forums. Shortly after, I stood for UK Young Ambassador; the rest is history.



Why particularly the United Nations?


Well, I was born in Venezuela, I’m from a migrant background. In 2010, the UK welcomed me with open arms. I look back at Venezuela and sees the destruction of a society. It was almost out of frustration with the UN's inaction, a hope that the UN would do more and knowing it could. That hope catalysed my entry into the field of human rights advocacy.



Is your focus on asylum seekers and refugees come a result of your migrant background?


To an extent. It would be ludicrous to say no, but someone committed to human rights should champion it across the board. Asylum seekers are some of society’s most vulnerable. The rhetoric across much of the world on immigration, I've never seen it at this level. It's very dangerous.


This inspired my candidacy for the Advisory Council on Youth of the Council of Europe. Safeguarding the rights of young asylum seekers was my top policy priority during the campaign and will be upon the start of my mandate on January 1, 2024. It's all connected at the end of the day; if someone's human rights are on the line, yours can be too. That's been my guiding principle.



Is that interconnected focus why you found yourself in spaces like the European Youth Forum for the British Youth Council and the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC)?


As a UK Young Ambassador working for the British Youth Council, I have a mandate to represent UK youth at the European Youth Forum. While connected, my work with the EESC is more of a side project, focused on improving the funding of youth organisations and strengthening the EU-UK relationship.


I've been privileged to participate in the European Youth Forum. Not many people see these internal structures, so I'm mindful of those back home. That's why we at the British Youth Council always look to decentralise power. There are platforms to be built, things to be done and people to help.


I’m an optimist. It's all about connecting activists with other activists and with institutions, then driving that forward.


For instance, the British Youth Council is campaigning to re-establish a UN Youth Delegate programme. It's not a system where I go and lobby the UN on behalf of young people; it's about getting new people on board. Additionally, it's about financing proper consultations. We sometimes struggle, given the youth sector's limited funding. The campaign is fundamentally about decentralising and bringing young people closer to power to connect them with decision-making happening abroad.


It sounds idealistic, but it's something other countries already do magnificently. It's the bottom bar. Strengthening cooperation and trying to get people connected is vital.



Why is increasing youth engagement in international institutions so important?


The best way of answering is to point to an argument politicians often use against meaningful youth participation: 'young people are not engaged'. The past couple of years have disproven that myth. We've seen young people coming out in large numbers to support issues across the world, from climate change, to abortion, racial equality, and even peace and security. They're showing up to take a stand. It was a myth beforehand, but it's been totally disproven.


But sadly, you can see the current disenfranchisement in polling; young people are unsatisfied with and don’t trust their governments as opportunities diminish. The international route is where a lot of the critical decision-making takes place, and it's consistently a space where youth voices have been left out.



Is this disconnect fundamentally about age and demographics? Could it change over time?


I've grappled with that a lot but haven't arrived at a definitive answer. We can talk about the future, but we're here now. That focus on the present is something you hear from many youth activists on the ground, and quite rightly. We might change future dynamics, but why don't we start acting now? Let's not get bogged down in the demographic question; we want to be democratically included and empowered today.



What are the most significant issues created by having young people feel left behind?


'Left behind' is a spot-on phrase. Right now, there's a discussion in the UK around youth loneliness and its impact on society, mental health, and well-being. We also need to consider the security implications. It leads young people to polarisation. If a populist leader promises the world, as is happening all over, then young people – given the way they are feeling - are left with an impossible decision. We've seen rising youth support for the far right and far left across Europe.



Why do you believe that institutional, government-controlled channels provide fruitful ways of engaging with young people?


Well, combining institutional and civil society's strengths is where we get somewhere really interesting. Institutions are slow and it's sometimes difficult to make change - there are bureaucratic barriers - whereas the advocacy of outside groups can change things. We need both.


Ultimately, we want to give young people a true say; for that, you need to ensure institutions know how to represent us. That’s achieved by young people leading in the co-creation of policies. There's a wealth of youth activists across the UK calling for co-creation and co-management.


A prime example is the Council of Europe's Advisory Council on Youth. It's a body that has existed for decades made up of youth representatives and ministry officials. All policies are co-created, and every member has a veto power. It's a model of how we can engage institutions in a constructive way that treats us as equals.



So, it's about getting young people face-to-face with those in power to have the conversation themselves.


Yes, but you need more than that. It needs to be meaningful. This is one of the biggest frustrations in the youth sector. Sometimes, politicians show up for the photo op. Now, that does wonders for social media, but the real test comes with actively listening and following-up. I've talked to many international youth representatives who share similar concerns about how politicians attempt to 'meaningfully engage youth'.


Having a young person present to tick a box is harmful because it gives a false impression of hope. It does nothing to fix feelings of marginalisation.



Is this improving? Are those meaningful conversations being had more than they were?


To some extent, yes. There's more recognition of a young person's role and the value they add to democratic decision-making. However, if young people were genuinely listened to, they would have more trust in their governments. More work needs to be done. Again, funding is crucial for curing these social ills and creating a more engaged and representative civil society.



How do you give opportunities to young people who don't see these institutions? Whether their schools don't give them access, they aren't in higher education, and so on.


The term often used to describe these groups is 'unorganised youth.' This isn't to say they don't know how to organise themselves; they just aren't part of a formal network. Someone working multiple likely has fewer opportunities or less time than those from a wealthier background. You have to be privileged to be part of these formal networks, which is why I emphasise funding because a lack of funding creates further pressure - and limitations - on youth work.


It's also about doing outreach. Whether you run into young people saying something about the state of the economy - it happens - and you ask, "what's your vision? What do you think?" Or through more formal channels, it's important to make the effort.


You work to guarantee their place, especially for people from marginalised backgrounds. Of course, you will never reach everyone; there are 24.2 million young people aged 25 and under in the UK, but that's why you make it as accessible as possible.


In October, we had a youth gathering hosted by the EU delegation. One of my key demands was that we have unorganised youth represented; young people who aren’t from the typical background you see in the youth sector. We made it accessible to them and their perspectives and insights were invaluable.



Is the effort to reach broader demographics replicated in adult spaces?


Hearing from someone from a non-traditional background makes institutional players want to involve them. Interacting with young people, especially from underrepresented demographics, opens one's eyes to hidden issues. Getting those young people to the table before lawmakers is how we give them the tools to express their frustrations and propose their solutions confidently. Again, it's all about decentralisation.



What incentivises institutions to provide funding?


It's all about inspiration and seeing someone making positive change in a community. It's challenging to get our point across; we're doing a lot of fantastic work and I try and connect them, but it isn't easy.


Securing funding, more generally, is about showing your energy. It's about possibilities and convincing institutional players. However, the youth sector shouldn't solely rely on government; we need to engage all parts of civil society. That's why the youth sector needs international engagement. Best practice sharing happens at the local and national levels, but there's great potential internationally. It’s something we routinely do at the British Youth Council.



Is international engagement vital primarily because it broadens scope and brings in new viewpoints?


It gives you a new perspective and enhances existing ones. Just in the past two years, I've learnt so much. I've seen how different European governments operate and young people's everyday lives across the continent.


Mobility-based programmes aren’t just about building networks or making friends. It's also about acquiring skills, understanding, and training. The UK needs to do more work to invest in youth mobility. It opens a young person's mind and is an alternative to internships and graduate placements. It educates young people in a unique way that should be a top priority.



Is this where conversations about the Erasmus scheme come into play?


One hundred per cent. Erasmus+ has the "+" because it's not just about education. Erasmus used to provide many opportunities for young people, which is why we're working hard at the British Youth Council to promote discussion on the matter. It's not about re-hashing the Brexit debate; it's not the EU versus the UK; it's about understanding that this is a common-sense issue and deserves a common-sense solution. It's what young people deserve.


Erasmus+ provided millions to the UK youth sector annually, which has all been lost. It is crucial that there are more opportunities for young people and that we value volunteering. It's a unique way to further skills while demonstrating passion for a social issue. Volunteering matters, and it deserves more recognition.



Does lack of mobility encourage isolationism?


I prefer to say that it prevents further exploration and understanding. Exploring our world is something young people crave. I don't know if it fuels isolationism. It provides a barrier and limits one's ability to explore the world, especially as we move towards a more closed-off society. I think isolationism is different.


2022 was the European Year of Youth, and I received questions throughout that year from young people asking why the UK was not part of it. They expressed their frustration that there was nothing similar here.


This has slightly changed because this year is the Commonwealth Year of Youth, which the British Youth Council is actively involved in. However, seeing more continuous engagement in youth affairs and recognising the value of youth voices would be nice.



So, fundamentally, it's a wasted opportunity: the knowledge, experience, and skill that could be leveraged has fallen by the wayside in our post-Brexit environment.


Regarding Erasmus, yes. Erasmus didn't need to be cut. Although the Turing Scheme does have its benefits, it's far from what Erasmus used to offer. There's no funding for non-formal education, leaving a big hole.


We're in the middle of a cost-of-living crisis, several peace and security debates, we're still talking about climate - as we should - and several other. Young people are frustrated, and opportunities are diminishing since funding has been hit. We've seen youth disengage to high levels elsewhere, and we need to act quickly. We need to do more. We need funding.



How should young people who feel disenfranchised and want change get involved and stay involved in international politics to make change?


Find those people who represent you in the international sphere. If you're focusing on Europe, that would be me. Approach those within the British Youth Council and other organisations. Grill us. There may be things I haven't thought of that would be useful. I'm happy to have a dialogue to represent young people better.


Although, if you feel left behind and unheard, finding your international youth representative is not easy.


However, if you're frustrated, other people near you likely have the same frustrations. So, build networks, whether they are at the local, regional, or national level. Find solutions and have discussions. Again, it's easier said than done, but it all starts with a conversation. We've seen massive social movements grow from simple conversations.


It can be friends or people 200 miles away; reach out. You aren't the only one feeling this way, and together, you can find common solutions.

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