The recent closure of the British Youth Council (BYC), a longstanding champion of youth voices in our democracy, has sparked commotion among young people. On March 21 2024, the announcement of the charity’s permanent closure due to ongoing financial challenges prompted a wave of reactions. In a vehement LinkedIn post, UK Youth Ambassador William Awomoyi described the closure as ‘Shocking. Gutting. Heart-wrenching … We are not letting the organisation die.’

As a committed Youth Councillor for Hammersmith & Fulham, who has actively engaged with the British Youth Council, I staunchly advocate for amplifying young voices in shaping political decisions. The British Youth Council is important as a platform for youth voices because it furthers the cause of ensuring that democracy is extended to include young people.

However, given what has happened, it is perhaps time to ask whether the BYC was an essential political mouthpiece for young people or just one of many. My answer will likely disconcert many members of the UK Youth Parliament (UKYP).

Not So Unexpected?

Undoubtedly, the closure of the BYC set ripples of disbelief amongst the passionate youth workers and activists entrenched within its initiatives. And yet, the demise of the Youth Council, while unexpected, was not entirely unforeseen.

The decline of youth services in the UK has been rising for years, and the closure of the BYC is just one consequence of this trend.

Financial disclosures from the Charity Commission website reveal a shrinking staff of 19 and a dwindling income (outstripped by expenditures) of £826,000 in March 2022, with overdue accounts signalling a lack of sustained investment in youth causes from benefactors.

Moreover, Siân Berry AM’s report on London Youth Services Cuts highlights that we have lost over a third of our youth centres in the last decade, and there were 611 fewer youth workers in 2020-21 than a decade ago.

The shuttering of the BYC implies a broader trend: the waning interest of young people in youth causes. And the growing extinction of youth services is partly the result of this disinterest.

One explanation could be the perceived inefficacy of the BYC in mobilising impactful change in response to pressing issues.

Resolving Critical Issues

For over seven decades, the BYC empowered young individuals to advocate for their concerns and ‘Make their Mark.’ Through various initiatives, like the election of Members of the Youth Parliament (MYP) every two years, the BYC aimed to address important youth causes such as enhancing life skills and mental health among young people.

Zara Khan, chair of the charity, argues that ‘young people continue to need better mental health services [but] young people continue to be left out of our democracy at such a crucial time.’

However, the British Youth Council’s tangible impact on these critical issues remains elusive. While the need for improved mental health services for young people is undeniable, the BYC might not be the most effective conduit for this change.

Direct engagement with relevant services and organisations like Rethink Mental Illness, which utilise successful coproduction models, could offer more efficient pathways for youth-driven advocacy. Their coproduction method effectively connects youth voices to a network of mental health professionals from Mind, CAMHS, and THRIVE that can offer practical guidance and a safe space.

A Disinterested Youth?

Young people’s dwindling interest towards youth causes is another reason for the collapse in youth services. A mere 300 youth parliament members and supporters signed an open letter to MYP, Hayden Cutler. This number starkly contrasts with the 8.1 million British youths aged 10-19 living in the UK. The disparity further emphasises the failure of the BYC to effectively represent the diverse voices of young people in the UK.

Young people need a reliable platform that will spark a passion for social causes and mobilise young people — and it’s not the British Youth Council. While hopes for a revival linger, it is increasingly evident that the BYC may no longer be the epicentre of youth activism.

MP Stuart Andrew assures that: ‘We have been working at pace to identify a suitable organisation which can hold overall grant management responsibility for the UKYP 24/25,’ hopefully alluding to the resuscitation of the British Youth Council.

However, today’s young people may not be as reliant on the BYC as previously thought. The closure of the Council highlights the need for alternative avenues for youth engagement. Merely transferring the management of the British Youth Council would make it susceptible to recurrent failure. Without significant youth interest in the British Youth Council, such investment is likely to be futile.

Presently, cause-specific coproductions, local government engagement, grassroots campaigns, and online petitions are just a few examples of how young individuals can voice their concerns and drive fulfilling change — without the BYC’s fragile foundation that risks seeing young voices fall through the cracks of bureaucracy.

The Future of Youth Activism

We must reassess our approach toward youth activism and advocacy. The closure of the British Youth Council may be perceived as a setback for youth activism, but rather than lament its demise, we should view it as an impetus to explore new methods of empowering young people and amplifying their voices in our society. By acknowledging the changing landscape of youth engagement, and embracing more effective and innovative approaches to responding to youth issues, we can ensure that the spirit of youth activism remains alive and well among the next generation.

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