Christian

The ‘deal breaker’: Will young people’s concerns be brought to the Assembly bargaining table?

During the last Assembly, young people and their concerns featured in budget deals brokered in the Senedd.
In this blog, Christian Webb, Chair of Llais Ifanc, looks at how this could happen again.

The votes have been counted and the new Assembly Members have been announced, and with 29 seats, Welsh Labour will be leading the new Welsh Government. However, without a majority, they will need to look to Plaid Cymru, the Welsh Conservatives, UKIP, and the Welsh Liberal Democrats to pass their budgets and laws.

Throughout the course of the last Assembly, young people and their concerns were brought to the heart of negotiations between different parties. As a result of a budget deal between the Welsh Liberal Democrats and Welsh Labour in 2014, a pupil premium was established to support children in deprived areas, a discount bus travel scheme for 16 and 17 year olds was set up, and 5,000 new apprenticeships were created.

As we look towards the next five years, here are some of the things parties may find common ground over in negotiations, especially when it comes to young people.

Many of Welsh Labour’s promises for young people focus around education. They want to spend £2bn on improving and constructing new school buildings, provide computer coding lessons, start classes for emotional wellbeing, and begin Business Clubs to re-shape career support in schools. They want to provide 100,000 apprenticeships, and in regards to tuition fees, promise Welsh students will be ‘better off’ than their English counterparts, awaiting the conclusions of the Diamond Review before publishing their full plans. They would like to see the voting age lowered to 16, in addition to exploring digital voting in future elections.

Plaid Cymru published a separate ‘Children and Young People’s Manifesto’ as part of their election campaign. Like Welsh Labour, they want to provide positive relationship education in schools and bring the school starting age down to three years old. They also support votes at 16, but additionally want to establish a Youth Parliament for Wales and extend the powers of the Children’s Commissioner for Wales. They may find common ground with Labour on apprenticeships, in wanting to create 50,000 new placements. However they may find disagreement on tuition fee policy, where Plaid have promised to repay £6,000 for every year studied if graduates return to Wales to live within five years of completing their degrees.

With mental health a top concern amongst young people, it’s encouraging to see the Welsh Liberal Democrats have made putting mental and physical health on an equal footing a priority. They too want to invest in ‘tens of thousands of new apprenticeship places’ and tie this in with enterprise by helping school and college leavers to create ‘Made in Wales’ businesses. For young people hoping to get their foot on the property ladder, the Lib Dems want to build 20,000 extra homes by 2021 and 2,500 ‘Rent to Own’ homes, where tenants can own a share of a property through rent payments. In terms of education, the Welsh Lib Dems want to limit class sizes to 25 and want to provide a ‘Student Living Support Grant’ for students studying across the UK.

The Welsh Conservatives have also made some solid promises on supporting mental health and wellbeing for young people by promising to increase the capacity for mental health services for children and young people. They are also seeking to establish a 28 day target for accessing talking therapies to both children and adults by 2021. In schools, they want to introduce modern foreign languages at primary level, and to introduce mandatory life-saving skills and public health education into the curriculum. Like Labour, they want to build more schools, but also want to explore establishing university technical colleges; institutions which would seek to bring the status of vocational qualifications to the same level as academic qualifications. On tuition fees, they want to introduce a ‘Student Rent Rebate’, in order to offer help with living costs. They also want to introduce a ‘Housing Access Bill’ to help young people get on the housing ladder by letting housing associations offer ‘Right to Buy’ options to tenants.

Finally, UKIP want to abolish fees for students studying STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics and Medicine) subjects in Wales, replace tuition fee grants with loans for students studying in England, and remove the tuition fee grant for EU students if the UK votes to leave. Like the Conservatives, they want to see a focus on modern foreign languages in schools by introducing statutory modern languages at the age of 7. They have also promised to promote Children and Adolescent Mental Health Services, as well as improve psychological therapies across Wales.

It’s a promising sign to see many parties sharing common ground on several issues affecting young people; from education, to mental health, to housing. Although they may all have different approaches to each issue, it’s great to see them all wanting to achieve the same aim – of making Wales a better place for young people.

Over the coming months, Llais Ifanc – Youth Cymru’s Young Leadership Panel – will be working with the Welsh Government, Assembly Members, and young people’s organisations across Wales to look at ways to achieve this aim. Most importantly, however, we will look to bring the voices of young people to the heart of every conversation.

The next five years will be challenging. But by working together, we can make Wales an even better place to be a young person.

Christian Webb is the Chair of Llais Ifanc, and tweets @MrChristianWebb.  You can follow the work of Llais Ifanc – Youth Cynru’s Young Leadership Panel on @LlaisIfanc