Who are young people?
Young people are the people staying in, and saving lives, when they share a bedroom with two siblings. Young people are the GCSE students unable to feel the pay-off of their hard work. Young people are the cancer patients who have had to delay their treatment. Young people are shielding. Young people are trying to work from shared houses without a living room, let alone a garden. Young people are the self-employed told they don’t qualify for support without three years of tax returns – when they graduated six months ago. Young people are the LGBT+ students who have had to return from university to homophobic or abusive parents.
Young people are the big sisters and brothers entertaining the little ones while parents work from home. Young people are student nurses and medical students, taking their place on the frontlines. Young people are the volunteers supporting a local foodbank. Young people are the young carers putting in tireless hours to keep their family members healthy and well. Young people are the friends staying up all night on Facetime to support a friend with depression. Young people are key workers – supermarket workers, care assistants and delivery drivers.
Why do young people matter?
Young people face specific challenges within the COVID-19 crisis, and young people are playing our part in saving lives and keeping communities together. But too often, the only times we hear about young people in the news or on social media is as potential rule-breakers, or as “Generation-Me”.
How are young people specifically being affected? Even when the country isn’t in crisis, young people often struggle to access the services we need, or seek help when we need it. We are amongst the least economically secure – predicted to be the worst hit by the crisis. We were already facing a youth mental health epidemic, and now face months of isolation. Our right to access education is being limited, and educational inequality is getting worse. Young people are more likely to come from minority ethnic groups, who are disproportionately dying of coronavirus.
But we should not at this time, or any other, equate vulnerability with powerlessness. Only months ago, many of us now trapped in our bedrooms were leading the largest youth led protest movement our country has ever seen. Our determination has not disappeared. Young people are making a difference, staying at home, supporting our families, volunteering, working on the frontlines.
In this crisis and for the future, society must recognise young people’s needs and our contributions – and must take the chance to hear from us, and include us in the decisions that impact our lives. It is very telling that in the first open call for questions for a government press conference, under 18s were barred from submission. Without the voices of young people, society can’t understand the challenges they face, and is unable to benefit from our insight, energy, and ideas in solving those challenges.
That’s why we, as youth voice champions, decided we had to do something. Between us, we work with the NHS and many other organisations to consider how their work impacts young people, and how they can best draw on and include young people’s lived experience. On this, the biggest health crisis our nation has faced in a generation, we couldn’t stay silent. We know that young people are not alone – although this experience is different for each of us.
So we spoke to our friends and we put our heads together. We worked with Andrea, a young cancer survivor and graphic designer, to create images that summed up our feelings. We decided to reach out to organisations we value and respect, across sectors, who have the potential to reach a huge audience of young people. We asked everyone to unite in a single, uplifting message – that young people matter.
But this is just a first step – we are committed to continuing to work together, with young people and with leading organisations. We are committed to making sure that young people are recognised – that our needs are considered, that our voices are heard, and our contributions celebrated. For every question young people have, we want to see answers. Watch this space.