To mark 2023’s Local Democracy Week, Fatema Limbada, Civic and Member Services Manager at Brent Council, explores the question of youth participation in local democracy in this article outlining their recent panel event. With more and more research finding concerning rates of low engagement among the young demographic, how can those in local government help change the tide?
Brent is situated in NW London and is home to Wembley Stadium and the Kiln Theatre. Brent is the most diverse locality in the UK by country of birth. The 2021 census found that the borough has England and Wales’s lowest proportion of people born in the UK, at 43.9%.
Are teenagers interested in government and politics? Well, historically, they have the lowest voter turnout by age, so there’s good reason to be concerned. In honour of Local Democracy Week, our team at Brent Council hosted its second annual Question Time-style event earlier this month.
As part of the event, teenagers from schools and youth groups around the borough were invited to ask local leaders questions about issues impacting their communities and the world around them. We also received some unexpected interest from primary schools and hope to capitalise on that going forward to get even younger people more engaged with politics.
This year’s panel was made up of three Brent Cabinet members:
- Cllr Harbi Farah
- Cllr Promise Knight
- Cllr Gwen Grahl
The panel also included Brent’s Deputy Member of the UK Youth Parliament, Manel Bensada, and Local Assembly member Krupesh Hirani.
The audience – all secondary and sixth form students – seemed very engaged throughout the panel and asked a variety of good questions on topics ranging from education reform, the limitations of Black History Month and controlling knife crime to lowering the voting age and reducing vaping abuse. As the discussion flowed, there was a collective head tilt in the room and the sound of several imaginary lightbulbs being switched open when the Chair, LGIU’s very own Jonathan Carr-West, proposed David Runciman’s suggestion that we should perhaps reduce the voting age to six – because what difference would it really make? And frankly, why not?
Despite a few self-admitted ‘politicians’ answers’, the panel drew upon their personal experiences and campaigning experiences to put forward their respective views eloquently, and ended on a positive note when the Chair asked each panel member to succinctly answer the question:
“What have YOU done to engage young people in politics?”
What comes next for youth engagement in Brent? Scattered around the room were posters inviting attendees to the next Youth Parliament meeting later the same month. The Youth Parliament has birthed local councillors within the borough, such as Cllr Ryan Hack and Cllr Saqlain Choudry who were elected for the first time in May.
Brent Council also has the youngest Opposition Leader in London in the Lib Dem Leader Cllr Anton Georgiou. In fact, six of our current councillors are aged 30 and under, with one currently at university. Statistics show that Brent is moving in the right direction because while the national average age of a councillor in England in 2022 is 60 years, the average age is 49 years in Brent. The future at Brent looks promisingly young and further reflective of its residents (the average age of a Brent resident in 2021 is 35 years). Hopefully, more youth engagement can allow for more politically active young people to become politically active adults – and that’s the future we want to see.
Fatema Limbada is the Civic and Member Services Manager at Brent Council. She oversees the learning and development of the borough’s 57 elected Councillors, and the Mayor and Deputy Mayor.