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Silencing UK Youth: Our Hopes for the Future

Written by Jasmine Brittan, UK Young Ambassador to the Commonwealth, and Zara Okusi, UK Young Ambassador to the European Youth Forum


It was a shock. Three days after our election as new UK Young Ambassadors, the British Youth Council (BYC) announced its permanent closure. With notification of such a distressing event being relayed to us via online statements, we were first met with disbelief, unable to imagine the end of this 75-year institution. The gravitas of this moment however, shortly became apparent. Together, we sat there, unable to process how key youth programmes would be able to continue with the eradication of a member-based organisation. As UKYAs we asked ourselves: What’s next? What is next for the 24.2 million young people who will no longer have their voices represented? What can we do as an international team to save these programmes?


Founded by the Foreign Office in 1948, in preparation for the World Assembly of Youth, the British Youth Council sought to solve one of the most pressing challenges of society: engaging young people in political spheres. Its aims stipulated empowering young people, increasing their voice in decision-making processes, and providing a platform to advocate for their rights. It was governed by a senior leadership team and board of trustees aged 16-25, all vouching for individuals from each region of the UK. Its work as a National Youth Council was broad: encompassing national representation, including that of the UK Youth Parliament and Youth Select Committee, and international fora.


Such tenets are core to the advancement of young people today. With a staggering 69 percent cut to youth services since 2010, involving 750 youth centres, youth-designated spaces are becoming increasingly scarce. These programmes invested in young people, giving them unique opportunities to speak in the House of Commons, contribute to policy proposals at the European Youth Forum and Commonwealth Youth Forum, serve on the Council of Europe’s Advisory Council on Youth, and directly lobby MPs and officials in roundtable sessions.


BYC’s insolvency threatens to further isolate the UK youth sector from the rest of the world. Such a collapse would diminish us as one of the only countries in Europe and the Commonwealth without a National Youth Council, a surprising statistic given this Government’s pioneering vision for a ‘Global Britain’ agenda.


Our role as elected UK Young Ambassadors, and international representatives, is particularly vital for preservation, with so few programmes currently in circulation. Moreover, increasing societal challenges, including climate change, war, and education, need young voices and perspectives. We are not seeking mere symbolic representation, but decision-making platforms where our voices are respected.


Furthermore, the severing of the UK’s ties with the Erasmus+ programme have wholly led to this current predicament. A staggering 40% of the BYC’s funding came from Erasmus+. Therefore, in the aftermath of Brexit, its eradication left a gaping hole in the charity’s funds and encompassed a major factor in its eventual closing. Moreover, the increasingly challenging dynamics, created by the cost of living crisis, has led to further pressures for BYC and many others operating in the youth space.


The closure of BYC comes at a time where young people in the UK feel more alienated than ever. According to YouGov, nearly 40% of UK youth (aged 18-24) feel their vote does not matter in general elections. Such political disenfranchisement is only accentuated by our current economic situation. Between the cost of living crisis and housing becoming increasingly inaccessible, it begs the question: What does the future of UK youth look like?


Our hope lies in a future built by the youth and for it. We believe in a future, where young people have a seat at the table and are right at the forefront of shaping policy. It is simply not enough to be at the sidelines but we must have an active stake in the conversations shaping our future. In order to do so, it is paramount we preserve the structure of our National Youth Council. If we are to solve the multiple challenges facing young people, we must protect the civic spaces which allow us to voice our concerns, including that of international fora.


Right now, there are over 300 Members of the UK Youth Parliament (MYPs) around the UK who have worked and continue to work tirelessly to improve their constituencies. We were elected by MYPs, along with the broader membership of the organisation, to represent them internationally and protect their voices far beyond the UK. Whether through ongoing negotiations or furthering our public outreach, we want to ensure that we not only save the current structure but improve it.


The past structure of the BYC was invaluable and cherished by delegates within the UK and abroad. However, this structure remains in the past, currently we are facing the rubble of what was once our National Youth Council. Therefore we are left with no option but to build from the ground up. Not only must we rebuild but also rethink how to better ensure youth voices are represented across the UK. We must not regard BYC’s closure as a definitive ending but rather as the start of a new beginning where youth voices are brought to the forefront of decision-making.


At the heart of what we are doing is what we were elected to do, which is to represent youth voices across the UK. And we will continue to do so, regardless of what the future may bring.


Image: The British Youth Council

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