(Title Image: via Twitter)
On Saturday 23rd February 2019, the Welsh Youth Parliament met for the first time.
40 of 60 Members of the Youth Parliament (MWYPs) were directly elected at the end of 2018; 20 were selected by partner youth organisations (Partner Members). Members will serve a two-year term.
The first plenary session was to decide which three topics – out of around 20 – to focus on following a survey of young people.
Chairing the first two-thirds of the session, the Llywydd, Elin Jones (Plaid, Ceredigion), congratulated MWYPs on their election, drawing comparisons between the Youth Parliament and the first Senedd election in 1999. 500 young people put their names forward and it was the first election of its kind run entirely online.
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Speaking in favour of Welsh language and culture, Brengain Glyn Williams (Arfon) stressed a need to teach history “relevant to our nation” so we can better understand ourselves, while Johnathan Powell (Wrexham) spoke out against music service cuts – which he warned could lead to “musical elitism and the loss of our cherished heritage”.
One topic recently discussed in the Senedd is active travel. Aled Joseph (Caerphilly) said that following Geraint Thomas’s Tour de France victory last summer there was no better time to launch a cycling campaign – though other members raised concerns that cycling was impractical in rural areas and couldn’t replace bus services.
Mental health was a top priority for a number of members, who sent a very clear message to AMs and the Welsh Government that current services aren’t up to scratch.
Thomas Comber (Delyn) told the chamber 1 in 10 young people have mental health problems, with waiting lists for Child & Adolescent Mental Health (CAMHS) over a year long. Ifan Price (Dwyfor Meirionnydd) revealed some schools might have a counsellor working on a part-time basis for just a few days a week; “the numbers didn’t stack up”.
Arianwen Fox-James (Brecon & Radnor) delivered an impassioned speech on her own experiences:
Casey Jane Bishop (Partner Member) – a domestic abuse victim – said she had been close to suicide a few times, learning to cope through self-harm and music, while Manon Clarke (Cardiff West) recounted how the suicide of one of her friends “froze the whole community”.
Eleri Griffiths (Cynon Valley) blamed continuous examination, which put pupils under pressure to succeed when childhood “was meant to be a time of enjoyment”.
On a more positive note, Todd Murray (Bridgend) said peer mentoring has been used effectively at his school, particularly for pupils who may not wish to talk to staff.
Lack of life skills and political education “a vast societal flaw”
Johnathon Dawes (Vale of Clwyd) said many members agreed the current curriculum doesn’t properly prepare young people for adulthood. A reformed Welsh Baccalaureate could teach politics, financial skills and essential life skills. Eleanor Lewis (Neath) supported this, saying modern life skills were “crucial” to meet challenges brought about by economic and technological change.
Maisy Evans (Torfaen) believed Wales should be “ashamed” that we weren’t preparing young people to become politically active and ethically aware citizens – a “vast societal flaw”, which the First Youth Parliament should dedicate themselves to addressing.
Lloyd Mann (Monmouth) added that while the Senedd is discussing lowering the voting age, the curriculum needed to prepare young people for it.
A number of members – either in care or young carers – spoke of serious issues facing them, including loss of school time and a postcode lottery in terms of support. Grace Barton (Partner Member) called for teachers to be given statutory guidelines, as young carers are four times more likely to drop out of education than other children.
An addiction to plastic
Kien Agar (Aberavon) was “deeply concerned by our generation’s addiction to plastic” – the biggest ever threat to marine life. Efan Fairclough (Pontypridd) warned that by the time members reach their mid-20s, the impact of climate change will “have gone so far it could be irreversible”.
Ubayedhur Rahman (Swansea West) laid down the stark fact that over an average Welsh consumer’s lifetime, the environmental damage from plastic use was the equivalent of burning 1,600 tons of oil.
Moving on to other topics – including equality – Nia Griffiths (Alyn & Deeside) said more than 7,000 incidents of hate crimes were recorded in Wales last year – an increase of 17% in twelve months. Ffion Haf-Davies (Gower) told the chamber it was “nonsense” that inequality was still with us and still worthy of attention despite a number of steps being been taken to improve equality, such as same-sex marriage.
Finlay Bertram (Newport West) believed homophobia and transphobia were perpetuated by lack of understanding, adding that ineffective “conversion therapy” remains legal despite promised reforms by the UK Government.
On crime, Angel Ezeadum (Partner Member) said recorded knife crime in Wales has increased by 25% in the space of a year, partly because of “county lines” drug gangs.
In response to a discussion on drug abuse, Betsan Roberts (Cardiff North) called for legalisation and regulation, as people won’t be exposed to unregulated ingredients and might be more confident to seek help instead of facing arrest. Others disagreed, believing rehabilitation and increased investment in mental health was a better approach.
Members even discussed Brexit with a level of maturity many adults desperately lack. Evan Burgess (Aberconwy) provided strong evidence that the EU had been invaluable to the Welsh economy and youth projects. He asked, “Could Wales afford a £680million a year void?”
Other members spoke in favour of Brexit. Harrison Gardener (Clwyd West) said that while Brexit would no doubt affect business, in the longer run Westminster was better placed than Brussels to address issues within the UK.
The Clerk to the Assembly, Dr Manon Antoniazzi – who chaired the final third of the session – told MWYPs to vote based on the survey results as well as what they heard during the session.
The result was:
|Emotional & Mental Health Support||41 votes|
|Litter & Plastic Waste||23 votes|
|Life Skills in the Curriculum||21 votes|
The next plenary session of the Youth Parliament is due to take place in October 2019.