We must trust our young people to make sure Britain’s always great
My son won’t remember the day the nation voted to leave the EU.
No matter how his political mind develops over the years, there will come a time in his life when he starts to understand the magnitude of a decision like this one was.
Like everyone did, as his parents we tried to base our decision on which way to vote around the issues that matter most to us. We have a small business and a young family, we use our healthcare system, we’ll want a new mortgage when we move in a few years, we travel….and so on.
It’s of no significance now, but we voted to remain. I respect and understand the reasons behind other’s decision to leave, and now we’re all waiting with baited breath to see how this monumental shift in our tapestry will play out.
I learned recently that in December 2015 proposals to enable 16 and 17 year olds to cast a vote in the referendum were thrown out by the House of Lords. Given that our children (there are currently 11m under 18s in England) will be the ones most profoundly affected by the vote for Brexit, it now seems somewhat of a shame that some of them were denied that unique opportunity to participate in one of the most significant democratic processes in modern times.
Wouldn’t it be amazing if this could now kick-start the important conversation around a global inclination to hear the collective political voice of a generation of people who are perhaps the most informed the world has ever seen?
Before the Leave and Remain campaigns upped the tempo on their respective messaging (now is not the time for me to comment on their tactics…..) I’m a bit embarrassed to admit I hadn’t really stopped to devote much thought to how being part of the EU impacts the life of my family in real terms.
Commenting on Brexit divisions for Opendemocracy.net before the referendum took place, law professor Helen Stalford wrote: “The UK’s exit from the EU could be catastrophic for children in terms of an inevitable and significant reduction in the economic, legal, and procedural provision currently available to them.”
So what does this mean?
As it stands, under 18s in England currently benefit from a wealth of EU protection to safeguard their wellbeing and enable them to access services and initiatives. This covers everything from parental employment rights, child protection and information sharing to best-practise directives and further research into their development and welfare; all of which is aimed at supporting them to reach their potential and live fulfilling lives.
Over the coming months we’ll learn more about how our own government-in-a-new-guise will respond to the need to restructure investment in support for our children and how it intends to adapt and replace the existing protection we’ve known. I feel genuinely scared at this point for our future generations and can only hope that my fear they will be left worse off in many areas of their lives is misplaced.
As they get older, our children will also come to know new ways of travelling, living and working overseas, managing their money and moving towards independence. They may not enjoy the freedom of movement within 28 countries that we’ve never given a moment’s thought to once this divorce is final, and it might not be so simple to take that dream job for a few years. I once studied for a year in Italy as part of the Erasmus scheme. That time shaped my entire adult life and I’m scared the same option won’t be available to the eager linguists, culture-seeking globetrotters and budding international professionals of the future.
They’ll face different challenges when it comes to their financial futures, as we wait to see whether Brexit will trigger a new recession. If that does happen, it’s likely to be our children who will be most affected as corporate belts tighten, banks impose stricter lending criteria and housing markets suffer in an economic climate that has barely had time to catch its breath after the last one.
If immigration were to drop, this wouldn’t necessarily mean it would be easier for people to find jobs. The evidence is clear: immigrant workers contribute more to our economy than they take out, so the economic impact of lower immigration levels could fuel any downturn. Couple that with the changes we could see in the cost of living thanks to the prospective pummelling our pound could take alongside reduced funding from EU initiatives, and again – it’s our children’s generation who would bear the brunt.
To me it seems grossly unfair that the generation who didn’t have a say in this are the ones who are going to have to live with its repercussions. On the day of the result a friend told me that his mother had asked her grandsons how they were voting and promised them that she would vote the same way as it would be them who would truly realise its impact. What a refreshing point of view.
I’m a relentlessly positive person, so I’m doing my best to bury the sense of dread I can’t seem to shake and get to work on how I can play a part in embracing this new reality.
The fact is that our young people won’t really know any different and the one thing I’m sure of is that as a nation we will make this work.
Or rather, they will make this work. I see creativity, diligence, knowledge, resourcefulness, wit, adaptability and resilience in the children and young people I know and love every single day.
Witnessing their brilliance – whether they’re two or 20 – gives me a peaceful sense of calm and trust that they’ll create something better and more wonderful for this country than we ever could. Idealistic? Undeniably.
But if that’s not Great Britain, I don’t know what is.