Sheffield teens’ election column - are ‘youth issues’ patronising?

Eleri Kirkpatrick-Lorente, 17. Picture: Andrew Roe
Eleri Kirkpatrick-Lorente, 17. Picture: Andrew Roe
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In the run up to Thursday, May 7, politicians and the media are talking about the importance of ‘youth issues.’

However, do they ever stop to think whether this is slightly patronising towards young people?

As a deputy member of Youth Parliament, it is my job to represent the views and priorities of young people in Sheffield.

It is often easy to ignore the needs of young people. Many don’t have electoral power, so it is easy for Government to disregard and write us off as apathetic.

Any debate encouraged among young people is often controlled and put within the constraints of so-called youth issues, but sometimes this makes me uncomfortable.

By putting concerns, problems and opinions of young people into a narrow field, it undermines the opinions of young people on issues outside this field and may also send the wrong message.

At worst it could encourage some young people to think broader problems of society are not relevant to them.

Could this be deliberate? Are politicians worried a mobilised youth vote in this election and an engaged youth will question the Government, hold them accountable, demand change and ask for representation? Maybe.

But the fact is, young people do have opinions beyond just worrying about bus fares or school dinners.

This can be seen in the Youth Parliament’s annual Make your Mark ballot, in which more than 850,000 people aged 11 to 18 voted for an issue which mattered to them. One of the top five, chosen as one of Youth Parliament’s national campaigns, was that everyone should be paid a living wage.

This is not a stereotypical youth issue, and shows young people have a broader view of the world than we are sometimes given credit for.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying young people’s worries about transport and school dinners are not important. As a member of Sheffield Youth Parliament, we have worked hard to address some of these concerns. We have evaluated PSHE lessons, encouraged a young reporters’ group and spoken to bus companies.

I am just concerned assigning a youth issues label to certain topics can sometimes make young people’s wider concerns seem irrelevant or peripheral.

In my opinion, especially before the election, young people should be encouraged to debate issues which matter to them, not just those which the powers that be assume will be important.

Let me put it a different way: all issues are potentially youth issues. We are members of society and want to be taken seriously.