February/March 2014: Youth Participation

Ask any politician, business or community leader and they will all tell you of their concern of the lack of engagement of young people in making policies for and delivering change in their communities. Yet despite this sentiment, too little is being done in practical terms to engage young people.

2014 is not the best time to be young in Britain. There are nearly one million
young people not in work, education or training, even at a time when the numbers of people in some form of employment is at an all-time high. The recent route to social mobility — attending university — that has worked for so many over the last 30 years, as educational opportunity has been vastly widened, is now not enough, it seems, to guarantee employment and prospects in the longer term.

Indeed the challenges facing many young people are increasingly extreme. In politics, for example, one of the barometers of the importance of young people
to decision makers is the make-up of parliament. While the three party leaders are some of the youngest ever, the average age of a member of the current parliament is 52, older than the parliaments of 1979, 1983 and 1987 — meaning the “feeder system” for the party leaders of the future is older than in the past.

As importantly, and despite recent improvements at Cabinet level — the pipeline of talent in parliament does not represent the ethnicity, socio-economic, or gender profile of the country. The percentage of ethnic minority MPs is 4.2 per cent v 12.4 per cent of the population; MPs are more likely to have gone to private school than at any time in the last 17 years (39 per cent of the total, compared with 7 per cent of the total UK population); the percentage of female MPs, despite an increase in this parliament, is 22 per
cent v 52 per cent of the population.

In fact Britain has a lower representation of women in parliament than countries including Rwanda, Uganda and even Uzbekistan: hardly a ringing endorsement
of efforts all parties say they are making to make politics and politicians look and feel more like Britain today. Similarly with business the statistics are not
encouraging. The heads of FTSE 100 companies are, on average, older than ten years ago. Further down, the numbers of people aged 18-25 in middle management positions across British businesses has fallen from 10.8 per cent to 7.5 per cent between 2005 and 2012.

Representative democracy
While none of this appears positive it is worth considering whether any of this
is really important. Does it in fact matter that this parliament is older than previous ones, whether or not they are privately educated, or that those over 25 are increasingly taking middle management positions in business? After all, when the economy by most measures is seen to be improving and with that improvement opportunities will inevitably increase over time for everyone, regardless of age, it could be argued that these imbalances may to a certain extent correct themselves.

We, at UpRising, strongly believe it does matter. It would be highly unusual to
think that our “representative democracy” works better when it does not represent the look and feel of the population as a whole. Similarly, with businesses needing to understand and react with their...

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