If we don’t tackle the reasons behind Wales’ exodus of young people, our communities will die
Wales is becoming older: On average, around 2,750 45-64-year-olds migrate to Wales every year. In the meantime, it is estimated that 117,000 young people between 15 and 29 years old have left just the counties of Ynys Môn, Gwynedd, Ceredigion and Carmarthenshire over a decade.
As a young person, these statistics are no surprise. Young people in Wales face big challenges in relation to educational and economic opportunities, as well as being able to afford a home.
Having grown up in the post-industrial area of Blaenau Ffestiniog, I have witnessed first-hand the lack of opportunities that are available to young people.
Firstly, our communities have faced deep financial cuts over the past few years. Not only have we seen less funding for youth services, we have also seen less funding for our educational services.
In the period 2015-2019, in Dwyfor Meirionnydd we have seen over £3 million of cuts within schools. The same is also seen in Conwy with over £8 million pounds of cuts.
Westminster makes financial cuts that, like a domino rally, hits everything from the Welsh Assembly to our county councils. The hands of our councils are tied due to Tory driven austerity policies.
Someday, I hope that we as a country can decide our own financial priorities, free from ideologically-driven Tory governments that the people of Wales didn’t vote for: once we secure Welsh independence.
But in the meantime, this lack of educational opportunities leads to the lack of employment opportunities which in the end leaves our young people in low skilled, low paid work.
As a result, the young people are unable to buy houses within the area despite various plans such as affordable housing.
It’s no surprise therefore that our young people leave Wales seeking out better employment and the opportunity to own their own homes.
And as they leave, little by little Welsh language communities disappear. This will have dire consequences within our rural communities to the point where we question the existence and the future of our communities.
We need to think about the ways that we can equip our young people to create the best possible future not only for themselves but also for the rest of our community and society.
The beginning of this process is to think about how we can create opportunities for young people in Wales and encourage them to stay here.
As a starting point, I would like to propose the creation of a young people’s international opportunity fund. This scheme would fund a young person’s proposed project for a year.
It could be used to finance a research programme or to finance an internship. By having international experience, our young people would be equipped with various new skills and ideas that they could then bring back to Wales.
If we as a country want to gain independence, we must ensure that our young people are equipped with necessary skills that will allow us to create a thriving economy.
A scheme such as this would allow our young people to have a unique experience that they could then share with the rest of the community.
In addition to offering opportunities to our young people, we must raise the minimum wage to ensure that employees have their real wages increased, not only their nominal wages increased. This would help alleviate austerity and =bring poverty to an end.
29.7% of children in Dwyfor Meirionnydd currently live in poverty. What hope do these children have? It is our duty together to ensure that every single child is given an opportunity to change their circumstances.
An opportunity to live and to be a part of society: our society.
A fair living wage will also aid every individual to buy a house in its native area. This will ensure the survival of our rural communities and our language.
We need to ensure that our young people can stay in the area and that they are not forced to leave due to rising property prices.
To conclude, we as a society need to bring back opportunities to our young people. We must remember that our young people are our future.
If our young people are not given opportunities, our society will not thrive and grow. Wales will atrophy until it has no culture or economy to call its own.
But by giving our young people more opportunities, they will develop new ideas that they can contribute to society. In the long term, this will help our society to evolve and to ensure the survival of our communities and of our language.
Elin Roberts is currently a student at Sciences Po Paris and has put her name forward as a Plaid Cymru candidate in Dwyfor Meirionnydd.