‘They don’t care about our future’: 4 in 5 children don’t feel listened to by politicians, survey

ITV News Correspondent Martha Fairlie looks at the Children's Commissioner's findings. Words by Westminster Producer, Maya Bowles

The biggest survey of children in England ever produced has revealed four in five children don’t feel listened to by politicians.

The Children’s Commissioner Dame Rachel de Souza, who led the project, is calling on political parties to put children at the heart of their manifestos in the election.

Hearing from a million children across the country, Dame Rachel found children are frustrated and disempowered because their experiences are rarely reflected in policy making.

Among a number of other recommendations, Dame Rachel urges each political party to commit to writing a manifesto for children, and for MPs to hold specific surgeries for children in their constituencies.

The Children’s Commissioner told ITV News at an exclusive visit to a school: “The number one big finding, the most negatively answered question was ‘the people in power don’t listen to us."

“Children saw during lockdown the power of politicians, they saw their schools closed in a day, they saw the vaccine rollout, they know politicians are powerful… but what they feel is they’re not being involved," she said.

“They’re watching massive changes in their lives, they’ve seen Brexit, the cost of living crisis, war in Europe, and they want to help, they want their views heard.”

“If we can legally consent to anything at 16, why can’t we legally consent to who we want in power?” 16-year-old Melissa, from Essex, asks.

“If they say we don’t know anything about politics and politicians then they should teach that in schools more often, because you don’t just suddenly understand politicians overnight from when you’re 17 to 18," she said.

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The other significant finding from the survey was that every single child spoken to answered 'yes' when asked if their parents were worried about food costs.

“Children have talked about being worried about the cost of living, they’re worried about poverty," Dame Rachel said.

“They’re hearing it, parents are talking to them about the cost of food, the cost of rent, they’re worried about that, they absorb it all.”

“My generation has had it really hard”: Melissa, 16

Melissa, a 16-year-old from Essex, was forced to leave home because of family troubles and is now living in YMCA accommodation and on universal credit.

The pandemic had a huge impact on her attainment at school, as well as her attendance, social skills and mental health.

Melissa said she was “infuriated” to see politicians “going out and partying” during lockdown while schools were closed - “It just seems like they don’t care about our education, they don’t care about our futures," she said.

Living on £293 a month from universal credit, Melissa says she struggled to get to the end of the month, and wants Rishi Sunak to reform the benefits system.

"It’s always the last two weeks I have £1 in my account or £2, there’s definitely sacrifices you have to make, especially living by yourself," she says.

"I do think they [the government] could help out a lot more either being more lenient on how many hours you can work and how much money you can make, or giving more money to people living independently or semi-independently, especially to people who are younger as well."

Melissa says her “generation has had it really hard, especially in more recent years with social media and all the stereotypes and especially Covid impacted us a lot".

She tells ITV News the government don’t listen to people her age because they can’t vote - “I think the voting age should be lowered to 16", she says.

“I see my mum struggling more”: Rewayda, 17

Rewayda from London says she is increasingly aware of the impact of the cost of living crisis on her family.

“I have a single mum, I see her struggling more. We have five kids in the house and she’s funding all of us," the 17-year-old says.

“Especially coming to school in central [London], I have to get a train, I see her struggling with it.”

Among 33 recommendations in the Children’s Commissioner’s Big Ambition report is that no child should go hungry.

She also proposes that all eligible children are auto-enrolled in free school meals, and that the government reform benefits by reviewing the existing base rate and committing to a “triple-lock” for uprating all child-related benefits.

Official statistics on poverty last week showed a record high number of children living in poverty in the UK, with an estimated 4.33 million children in households in relative low income in the year to March 2023.

Rewayda says if she could sit down with Mr Sunak she would tell him to “have a more realistic view of how much money is needed to raise kids… a lot of kids are ending up in poor socioeconomic areas”.

She says she feels frustrated that politicians focus on the needs of people who can vote for them: “We can’t vote, but I do feel like the opinions I have personally I don’t really see being discussed by politicians, I think they focus on the voters.”

“Please listen to us”: Prisha, 17

Prisha, a 17-year-old from London, says she wants “politicians to just be seen by younger people”, and to “get involved in schools”.

In a message to those in charge, she says: “Please listen to our voices, I think for future generations we have considerations you might not have.”

Prisha says she has also become more aware financial pressures on her family during the cost of living crisis - “you see them struggling”, she says.

“When you join them to go shopping you can see the prices increasing by your next visit, their worried looks whenever they get a bill or whenever they have to pay the water bill or electricity.

“Kids aren’t that naive, they’re not that oblivious to what’s going on around them," she adds.

Prisha thinks the voting age should stay at 18, but that “there should be more education … so that by 18 people feel they have the knowledge to vote.”

“Around the country children feel unsafe”: Isaiah, 18

The survey found that young people are increasingly concerned about their physical and also online safety.

“Children have a real fear about knife crime and being safe in public places”, Dame Rachel said.

Only 62 per cent of 15-year-olds said they felt safe and protected in their local area, and only half of 17-year-olds said they had fun activities in their local area.

Dame Rachel is calling on all local authorities “to run an audit of the youth activities available in their areas, in consultation with children”.

Isaiah, 18, says he’s seen people where he lives pulled into crime.

“I think what would make children and young people feel safer… would be more of an emphasis on providing activities… to do outside of school," he says.

“Whether it be more investment in community centres, or more money to give to schools to invest in extracurricular activities, I think that would be really effective.”

"We are the future": Zara, 17

17-year-old Zara from Brighouse said she's surrounded by crime in her local area.

"On the commute to college you see people affected by crime, you see the results of crime, you see homelessness on the streets.

"It does affect people because you feel scared and anxious."

"We are the future generation, we are the future workers, cleaners, teachers, educators, so we need to be the ones influencing policy and laws that will affect our future", she said.

A government spokesperson said: “We back the Children’s Commissioner’s message about the importance of listening young people’s voices and encouraging their ambition and we thank the children and young people who participated in this survey.

“We are focused on ensuring every child and young person gets the best start in life and opportunities they need to get ahead, and our plan is working; we have transformed the quality and choice in education and there are now more opportunities for young people than ever before.

“We know the last few years have been tough, which is why we stepped in with the biggest cost of living package in Europe, worth an average of £3,800 per household, and this unprecedented support prevented 1.3 million people from falling into poverty in 2022-23.”

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