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Labour Shadow Ministers Cat Smith (left) and Kate Osamor

Biggs sits out Labour support for International Youth Day

TWO LABOUR Shadow Ministers issued a joint statement on 12th August to mark International Youth Day. Cat Smith, Shadow Minister for Voter Engagement and Youth Affairs, and Kate Osamor, Shadow International Development Secretary, spoke up for the rights of young people – not least to be politically engaged.

They also outlined how a large majority of young people voted for Labour’s positive anti-austerity policies at the General Election – some of them registering for the first time and then voting for the first time.

The picture they paint of how public services would, under a Labour Government, be provided as an investment in the country’s youth, so they will be educated and exercised as they develop into tomorrow’s leaders.

It’s a picture we are not seeing in Tower Hamlets – and nor are we hearing the celebrations. The Labour Mayor is of course in difficulty because his funding from central government has been drastically cut, but there is no doubt that John Biggs has departed from the agenda set by his predecessor.  Mayor Lutfur Rahman always made it very clear that youth services were a political priority. He devised an investment package – including help with further and higher education, sport, youth clubs and careers – to prepare the “leaders of tomorrow”.

John Biggs has shied away from naming political priorities and is concentrating on the managerial side of running the Council – a stance which is alienating members of the public and increasing numbers of Labour Party members. Perhaps he should spend some time reading the Shadow Ministers’ statement and reconsidering his position.

Statement from Kate Osamor MP and Cat Smith MP

The Labour Party joins the United Nations in marking International Youth Day and recognising the positive contribution the world’s youth make in transforming their societies. This important day reminds us that young people are how we make the world fairer, safer and richer.

However, the UK government under the leadership of Theresa May is failing to prioritise the needs of young people. Not only have they been disproportionately hit by years of Conservative austerity, but the current cabinet has no strategy in place to ensure that the most vulnerable and disadvantaged young people get the support they need.

Following the 2017 general election, the youth policy brief was absorbed into “sport and civil society” under Tracey Crouch at the department of culture, media and sport. However, youth policy is not listed as a responsibility of the new minister, there has been no official announcement or clarification on this decision, and we are still waiting for the department’s delayed “youth policy statement” which was set to be announced over the “coming months” last November.

Under Priti Patel, the department for international development has also gone silent on its youth commitment. Back in 2016, DFID was holding a London youth summit, launching an ambitious youth agenda, establishing a specialised youth team, and promising to back young people around the world with a set of concrete commitments. Now the youth team has been restructured and merged, and there’s little sign that Priti Patel is listening to young people or stepping up funding for the work.

In June, the Labour manifesto captured young people’s imagination because it promised to deliver the real opportunities that the youth are demanding. These included scrapping tuition fees and bringing back student grants and the education maintenance allowance (EMA); introducing a real living wage of £10/hour by 2020 for all over 18s; banning unpaid internships and zero hours contracts; bringing back housing benefit for under-21s and introducing an inflation cap on rent rises; and lowering the voting age to 16. In contrast, the Conservative Party assumed that young people were apathetic to party politics and ignored young voters.

Today is a time for action. International youth day should offer a wake-up call to the government: stop delaying, and keep your promise to put forward an ambitious policy agenda for young people, at home and abroad. Only a Labour government will make it a priority to help youth around the world transform their countries for the better.

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