It's a power thing: Birmingham politicians and youth trade places for the day

It's a power thing: Birmingham politicians and youth trade places for the day

On Thursday 13th November, Birmingham politicians and local young people – recently returned from some of the poorest countries in the world – swapped places to explore what could happen if more young people were involved in decision-making across the world.

Local decisions-makers saw what it’s like to be on the other side of the TV camera in a ‘reverse Question Time’. Politicians and young people were set a challenge to tackle low youth voting turnout in a virtual reality where the young were in power, showing the barriers that young people in Birmingham and the West Midlands have to overcome to get involved in politics.

The young people have returned from three-month placements on the government-funded International Citizen Service (ICS) with the charities Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO) and Restless Development. The volunteers’ first-hand experience of tackling global poverty inspired them to campaign about youth involvement in politics.

Councillor Ian Cruise (Labour)Longbridge Ward says:

“As somebody who believes young people should have a voice in democracy at all levels, it has been a real pleasure to attend today’s event. It has inspired me to go out and do more within the community to engage young people in politics, as they have a huge amount to offer, both now and in the future.”

James Cartwright 22, ICS volunteer  from Tipton says:

“The young people I volunteered with in South Africa on the International Citizen Service were passionate and hopeful about changing their country. They’ve motivated me to get young people in the UK and across the world more involved in the decisions that affect our lives. Half the world’s population are under 25 so politicians can’t ignore our potential to be the solution and not the problem.”

Kate Varley, Executive Director of Tenteleni says:

“Young people need to be engaged in the political sphere. Politicians and decision-makers must listen to the voices of young people and act accordingly. Act being a key word.” 


For more information or to request an interview, contact VSO Press Office via Ruby Wright on Tel: +44(0)7969983222

Editor's notes
  • Half the world is under 25. Young people are affected by the most persistent problems in the world, yet are frequently overlooked as part of the solution.
  • Across the world, the average age of a Member of Parliament is 53; whilst the average age of a person is 24
  • 1.65% of parliamentarians around the world are in their 20s, 11.87% are in their 30s
  • Young people are three times more likely to be unemployed across the world
  • In Britain, just 20% think that today’s youth will have a better life than their parents – over half (54%) think it will be worse (Ipsos Mori)
  • A recent report describes the last cohort of generation Y as ‘characterised by their tolerance, compassion and motivation to tackle social issues’. (NCS Demos Report 2014)
  • The Official Statistics published by the Cabinet Office show that the proportion of people volunteering at least once a year has increased from 65% in 2010 to 2011 to 71% in 2012.

International Citizen Service (ICS) is an overseas volunteering programme funded by the UK Government’s Department of for International Development and open to all 18-25 year olds. ICS is led by VSO in partnership with ten respected development organisations, including Restless Development. Volunteers undertake 10-12 week placements in developing countries across Asia, Africa and Latin America working side-by side with local volunteers to make a meaningful contribution to fighting poverty, and to gain valuable skills. Since 2010 over 10,000 young people have completed an ICS placement, 233 of whom live in Birmingham.

VSO is an international development charity that works through volunteers in some of the poorest countries to make lasting change. For over 50 years, we’ve been placing professional and skilled volunteers with partners, from grassroots groups to government ministries, to build their capacity. We also utilise the skills of national volunteers to share knowledge and take ownership of local development.

Restless Development is the youth-led international development agency. Based in 10 countries across the world, our work is delivered by young people, for young people, giving them the skills and resources to deal with the main issues facing their communities and countries. Tackling unemployment, supporting young people to stay in education, giving access to sexual health services, and supporting young people to claim their rights. But it isn’t just our work on the ground that makes us special. There are 3.5 billion young people in the world. They will provide not just the leaders of tomorrow but the energy to bring change today.