a child's hand in an adult hand

No country for young people

By Farooq Sabri 24 November 2015

Last Friday marked the day nearly 25 years ago when the UN General Assembly adopted a promise to ‘protect and promote’ the rights of children. This, along with the commitment to ensure children’s voices are heard, was the foundation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

The global declines in infant mortality and rising school enrollment suggest there is much to celebrate internationally. But you could argue the last few years have seen a pattern of political choices in this country that run counter to the spirit of these principles.

In a climate of far-reaching spending cuts, you might expect this feeling to be shared by groups of all ages. But while the government maintains a commitment to increase public spending to support the expensive ‘triple lock’ guarantee for pensioner incomes on the one hand, the Resolution Foundation estimates that the government’s reforms to tax credits will take one pound in every ten from one-child families bringing home £15,000.

The likely impact of this, according to the independent Institute for Fiscal Studies, will be a widening of the gap in the median incomes that already exists between pensioners and people in work.

Together with the government’s housing policy—the plan to remove housing benefit for job seekers aged 18-21 and the failure to deliver an adequate supply of affordable housing, for example—you can see why David Willetts, a former minister in the last Parliament, felt it necessary to accuse the government of creating a ‘country for older generations’.

If you consider that young people are only half as likely to vote as those aged 65, this pattern simply reflects rational political calculation.

For this reason, civil society should—as my colleague David Bull has argued—get behind those campaigns that play a role in addressing under-representation at the polls, not just among young people but also ethnic minorities, people with disabilities, and those living in social housing.

Pre-election campaigns like vInspired’s ‘Swing the Vote’ are important to encourage young people to participate—and indeed make a difference—as active citizens in democratic life much earlier in their own lives. We need more school-based initiatives, like the Citizenship Foundation’s programme of work, to educate young people on all aspects of civic and democratic life. One test for civil society is to demonstrate that it can provide and amplify an effective voice for young people.

But how can the sector provide this effective and engaging voice for young people? One risk for children’s charities is that the cause ends up atomised across a series of campaigns—children’s education, child poverty, housing for young people, and so on—rather than unified under a single banner. Working to try and aggregate myriad issues into a single, compelling case could add weight to these issues in the eyes of politicians.

That approach, already underway in some parts of the sector, seems to have proven successful in lobbying on behalf of older people’s needs. And it could be a suitable tribute to the UN principles enshrined a quarter of a century ago.

A version of this blog was first published by Spears Magazine as part of our philanthropy series.