By Jon Boagey, associate director at NYA.
For the last six years or so NYA has been part of the Youth Zone at the party conferences. Managed by Citadel Communications, it’s an area within the exhibition for a wide variety of organisations who all have young people at their core.
In Brighton and Manchester a long list of senior national and local politicians, youth sector leaders and young people crammed in to listen and debate.
It doesn’t matter what side of the political divide you are on, these events are a rare opportunity to put decision makers on the spot, to listen to the quality of their arguments and decide whether you agree with them or not.
In Brighton the Labour MEP Julie Ward talked about Almedalen Week – a summer politics festival in Norway in which the town is taken over with political events and debates. In an age where our politics is increasingly polarised this seems a very healthy thing to me. Wouldn’t it be great if we could do something similar in the UK? A summer politics festival with politicians of different colours coming together in a spirit of openness and acceptance of other people’s views?
Youth affairs were much higher up the agenda at both conferences this year.
Youth Zone events highlighted many of the challenges young people face. But outside, in fringe events on housing, health, digital media and Brexit, time and again you heard politicians questioning the assumption that life will be better the next generation.
If you ask the public many are doubtful. They look at the difficulties young people have in finding decent affordable accommodation; struggling on low wages and job insecurity; or the numbers in debt or coping with poor mental health. Young people and their families are looking for bold solutions from politicians to the deepening challenges they face. We need more joined up policy that responds to the acute needs of the most vulnerable but also invests in preventative services. Local authorities need the resources to co-ordinate and plan these services ideally around life stages.
One of the most inspiring messages during the party conference season was not really a party political message at all. Andy Burnham announced the setting up of the Greater Manchester Youth Combined Authority. It won’t solve the deep structural challenges that so many young people face, but it does offer real influence for young people in the running of Manchester’s affairs.
That’s got to be the way forward.