Politics

'They focus on short term fixes': Why MPs must do better for young people

Time is ticking for ministers to act on the crises facing young people. For The Big Issue Wellbeing Week, activists tell us what's at stake

climate crisis demonstration

A group of young activists are putting questions about their futures directly to MPs as part of the Big Issue’s Wellbeing Week.

They want politicians to get behind the Wellbeing of Future Generations Bill, being pushed through parliament by Big Issue co-founder Lord John Bird and Green MP Caroline Lucas. It requires governments to take the security and welfare of people into consideration when writing legislation. The Bill makes long-term thinking, addressing the causes of problems not just their outcome, a key part of how a government serves its citizens.

The young activists spoke to The Big Issue about why they’re fighting for their futures, how the Government can bring young people into their decision making and if they felt listened to by MPs.

Joe Brindle, 18, Devizes

Teach the Future founder and campaign coordinator lobbying for better climate education in schools

I got involved in the Big Issue Wellbeing Week because I care a lot about my future and the future of my peers. It’s important we make sure that the decisions made now aren’t going to negatively affect young people’s futures.

The sessions have been going really well. It has been really nice to meet with MPs in a welcoming, honest space. They have been generally receptive – almost all have asked how they can better engage with young people, which has left me feeling very positive.

They can do that by giving 16 to 18-year-olds the vote. When I was 17 I was working and paying taxes but wasn’t able to vote. That’s definitely a problem.

MPs should be more transparent too. They’re used to how parliament works but to an outsider it can be quite daunting and scary. They should put more effort into explaining what they’re doing to constituents.

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Some MPs made the point that their natural inclination is to just focus on their term in parliament because that’s when people will hold them accountable. If we can find a way for them to think about the long term as well as the short term, that’s really important.

Anjali Raman-Middleton, 17, Lewisham East

Choked Up co-founder campaigning for legislative change to protect disadvantaged communities and people of colour from air pollution

I thought this bill was really important because it looks at long term solutions. It looks to the future which his exactly what we need right now.

Recently our government has not been thinking that way. Instead they focus on short term fixes, which isn’t as effective

Our meetings with MPs have been going really well. Everyone seems to be really responsive which is great to see, and all those I’ve spoken to so far have been very supportive of the bill. 

The Big Issue Wellbeing Week has given me confidence to speak to MPs, which is something I wouldn’t necessarily have gained otherwise. It has helped me learn more about how MPs can actually be really approachable and responsive to what you’re saying.

If they want to do more to engage young people, having a good social media presence is key. Young people use social media quite a lot – having a good presence allows young people to feel they’re more involved in decisions. Politics can be quite inaccessible, so it adds a sense of transparency that helps you feel you understand what’s going on. 

Cameron Leitch, 22, South West Norfolk

Intergenerational Foundation placement, researching ways to improve quality of life for young people

When the bill was having its first reading in the House of Lords, I wrote a blog about what it could do for young people. I was then involved in the consultation for the bill, discussing how it could be made more effective.

The sessions are going very well. Almost all MPs have agreed with what panellists have been saying and they tend to be supportive when asked if they’ll sign a letter to the Government asking them to introduce their own future generations bill. They strike me as understanding and willing to learn something new.

Shadow education secretary Kate Green said something that stuck in my mind. She made a great point about how the bill could require some cultural and attitude changes. Society needs to move more towards introducing long-termism into policy making – we’re not really used to that.

It was great to be able to have these conversations, to learn from them myself and hopefully improve the bill.

Young people between the ages of 20 and 30 are disproportionately underrepresented in all sectors of policymaking. If we want to address intergenerational issues, there needs to be more. Youth quotas could be a way to do that.

I think the Big Issue Wellbeing Week paints a positive light on young people’s ability to influence MPs. Ordinarily people might be quite apprehensive that the work we’re doing won’t have an impact. But if you work hard and are consistent, you’re likely to have an effect – even if you just sent a politician away thinking about the concept of long-termism.

Scarlett Westbrook, 16, Solihull

Teach the Future political engagement coordinator and UK Student Climate Network spokesperson 

The crises we face now, like the climate crisis, will have a big impact on the future, so the bill I instantly took a liking to and an interest in the campaign. 

The sessions have been great. MPs seem really supportive of the idea behind the bill.

Stewart McDonald (SNP MP for Glasgow South) made an important point. He said the way things are, any laws passed now could be undone by a future government. We need to make sure any important legislation we put in place is protected. It shows the importance of lobbying and making sure we don’t put it on the back burner even once passed. 

If MPs are going to be supportive of this, I hope it means they’ll be supportive of wider climate justice movements. The Government’s “Green Industrial Revolution” has serious long-term implications. For example, they’re phasing out diesel and petrol cars by 2030. But the amount on the road are already enough to blow our carbon budget.

It’s clear that long term impacts aren’t being looked at. I’m hoping this will encourage MPs to start thinking a bit more critically. I hope they start pushing for more sustainable climate justice policies too.

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