Westminster debate for youth parliament members

Ellen Burke and Steven Dawkins
Ellen Burke and Steven Dawkins

A student from Biggleswade will be joining hundreds of other young people debating in the House of Commons.

Ellen Burke, a pupil at Stratton Upper School, will visit Westminster along with Steven Dawkins as representatives from the Central Bedfordshire area.

Steven Dawkins, a student at All Saints Academy, Dunstable, and Ellen are the district’s two members of the UK Youth Parliament.

They will join other 11 to 18-years-olds on Friday, November 13, to tackle five major issues affecting young people today to open Parliament Week, an annual initiative to build greater awareness, understanding and engagement with parliamentary democracy in the UK.

It will be Ellen’s second time at the event and Steven’s first.

The five topics up for discussion are the living wage for all, curriculum for life, mental health, public transport, and tackling racism and religious discrimination.

They were voted for in the largest-ever youth referendum ballot, Make Your Mark, which saw 967,000 young people deciding their priorities from a list of 150 issues. That included 3,926 young people across Central Bedfordshire.

The debate will be chaired by the Speaker of the House of Commons, the Rt Hon John Bercow MP and screened on the BBC Parliament channel. At the end there will be a vote to decide which two should become the UK Youth Parliament’s priority campaigns for 2016.

The five key topics up for debate are:

Living wage – Everyone should be able to live comfortably. Everyone aged 16 or over should be paid at least the Living Wage of £7.85 per hour, or £9.15 in London, the living wage as devised by the Living Wage Foundation.

A curriculum to prepare us for life – Schools should cover topics including finance, sex and relationships and politics in the curriculum.

Mental health – Services should be improved with young people’s help and mental health education should be compulsory and challenge stereotypes.

Transport – Make public transport cheaper, better and accessible for all.

Tackling racism and religious discrimination, particularly against people who are Muslim or Jewish – All young people should work together to combat racism and other forms of discrimination, and ensure we know the dangers of such hatred.

Carole Hegley, executive member for social care and Hhousing at Central Bedfordshire Council, said: “I want as many young people as possible to be involved in the way our country and local communities are run, and Central Bedfordshire Council has been putting a lot of work into ensuring that young people are engaging with us locally.

“I’m really pleased that two of our young people will get the chance to be involved in this fantastic event. It’s great that so many people took part in the ballot as this means they have a real say on the issues that are important to them and the decisions that affect them.”