Delyth Jewell, Plaid Cymru Senedd Member for South Wales East and Shadow Minister for the Future
Young people of Wales. You are our future. You are our hope. And yet last week, a shocking study was published which found that your outlook on your own future was the lowest out of young people in 35 countries.
This should stop us in our tracks: it cannot be yet another headline that we shake our heads at, then move on from.
And who can blame you for being so disheartened at the moment?
The world seems full of scary and unsettling things – a pandemic has stopped you seeing your friends, going to school or follow a normal routine, whilst all the while a climate crisis is rumbling on and getting worse. Your generation has tried to tell governments across the world to take action, but so many still refuse to do more than pay lip service to your calls. You’ll see adults every day worrying about money or their jobs, and, if you’ve got older siblings, they’ll be worried too about exams.
What sort of world are you going to inherit? What sort of future have you been given?
And what about the pressures you are put under?
I think that we as adults are liable to forget just how many pressures are placed on you as children and young people, from body image worries to social media and bullying. You’ll feel under pressure to conform to ideals with how you look and how you perform in exams. And you’re being taught lessons that are structured around a curriculum that primarily rewards a narrow definition of academic success and which ranks you against your friends.
I’m so sorry that there are so many areas where politics, and adults, have let you down.
That’s why I’ve written this open letter to you today.
Because we need to do better by you.
We need to do better to tackle climate change and to demand climate justice. Too many people and politicians still act like climate change is a process that can’t be halted, that it can only be managed. But that wouldn’t be true if we were truly radical.
I want to see Wales setting up a national energy company to help us achieve our goal of becoming self-sufficient in renewable energy, and I’d like us to explore an energy atlas that would enable us to begin unlocking some of our natural resources’ potential in a way that benefits our communities and the people who live in them.
I want Wales to pass a Clean Air Act to tackle our appalling pollution levels that currently cause 2,000 deaths a year in Wales. Wales should take its place as a world leader in the fight against the climate crisis, not just watch on as opportunities pass us by.
We need to do better and secure a right to housing – and that right should be enshrined in law. We need to build more social housing to ensure that everyone has a home that’s comfortable, secure and safe, and we need to end homelessness for good so that no one has to spend their life living on the street.
Those of us with gardens found lockdown far easier if we could get outside when it was sunny and kick a ball around or enjoy being outside, even if we were missing our friends. But it wasn’t fair that so many young people and their families didn’t have access to parks and gardens – so we need to look again at planning laws and make sure that everyone has this right.
The lockdown also showed us that too many children’s mothers and fathers were struggling to get food and other essentials. So many people in streets throughout Wales were kind and donated food to food banks – but I’m angry that the food banks have to exist in the first place. No one’s mother or father should have to worry about how they’re going to put food on the table. The poverty of ambition that’s allowed this sorry situation to carry on for so long has to be challenged.
And we need to do better when it comes to opportunities for you, our young people.
The lessons you’re taught in school shouldn’t just be about academic achievement, but about nurturing and supporting you as happy, capable young people, who feel well-prepared for the challenges life will throw your way, and that will help you to feel positively about your role in our nation and the world. We should be encouraging you to feel joy, to connect with nature and your community, and to make time to experience childhood, instead of spending all of your time worrying over exams. It has to change. I want to do everything I can to change it.
The past few months will have been incredibly difficult for so many of you, and I want us as a society to invest more in mental health services, to tackle the cripplingly long waiting times for counselling and therapy, and to provide more help in schools and in the community. Too often, young people get stuck in the system or have to wait months before getting the right support, and that too needs to change.
I want you to feel happier about yourselves, to not feel under so many pressures about how you look. Social media can be a lovely way of staying in touch with friends, but I think we need to push for openness about when images on Instagram are photoshopped, and we as a society need to come clean about how we idealize body images that most people will never be able to conform to.
We should all try our best to stay healthy by eating well and exercising – but that should be something we enjoy. Too many of us as adults have allowed social norms to persist that have a bad effect on how you see and judge yourselves, and it’s on us to put that right.
And as well as all this, I want the way you feel about your futures to be happier. I know that things seem difficult at the moment, but it doesn’t have to stay this way. If you or your brothers and sisters are leaving school or university now, you may face uncertainty and difficulty in getting a job. Some forecasts suggest that the current crisis could push an extra 30,000 18-24-year-olds in Wales into unemployment in the coming year – if things don’t change. But that can’t be allowed to happen. We have to intervene.
That’s why my party, Plaid Cymru, is proposing an Employment Guarantee which would provide work opportunities for every 18-24-year-old in Wales at the earliest opportunity.
Because we have to invest in you, in our future.
Over recent months and years, you as young people have forced us as politicians over the world to take seriously the threat of climate change, and more recently in Wales, you forced the Welsh Government to u-turn on the A-level results fiasco.
We need to talk to you properly and find out from you what needs to change. Your voice must be central to addressing this issue and making sure that future generations don’t go through the same debilitating burdens on their wellbeing. More generally too, we need to strengthen your role in decision-making. You need a seat at the table, too.
Because the future we’re headed towards is your future, not ours. The decisions should be made with you, not for you.
I promise you, we are listening.