Community Scoop

Young people in Aotearoa: growing up in a policy vacuum

Anya Satyanand
Executive Officer
Ara Taiohi,Anya_ComVoices (1) Peak Body for Youth Development

The secret message communicated to most young people today by the society around them is that they are not needed, that the society will run itself quite nicely until they – at some distant point in the future – will take over the reins. Yet the fact is that the society is not running itself nicely… because the rest of us need all the energy, brains, imagination and talent that young people can bring to bear down on our difficulties. For society to attempt to solve its desperate problems without the full participation of even very young people is imbecile.”
― Alvin Toffler

Last week Parliament welcomed 121 young people for Youth Parliament 2016. This group of young people will enrol to vote enthusiastically and cast their vote for life. Youth parliamentarians debated issues of significance, and the smarts, heart, and passion they brought to their arguments lit up the debating chamber. They will be changemakers in their communities, but they won’t change the overall voter statistics without major changes to the way that we do politics, policy and democracy in Aotearoa New Zealand.

Young people often get called ignorant, self absorbed and apathetic. Young people’s lack of political engagement is discussed by other demographics in fatalistic tones, with generational condescension. Voter enrolment for 18-24 year olds for the 2014 election was 67.72%, a figure significantly below enrolment rates for any other age group. Of those 18-24 year olds enrolled, 62.73% chose to cast their vote in 2014 – only slightly higher than 25-29 year olds.

So how come so many young people in Aotearoa NZ don’t enrol to vote, and why don’t they vote at the same rates as other voters? It’s a clear demonstration that they feel politics are irrelevant to them. And this in turn is because mainstream political discourse does not speak to the issues that would motivate young people to engage in the ways that young people want to engage. Most young people don’t get to ask questions of politicians or hear the debates about stuff which matters to them. It’s a cycle of disengagement where the political establishment is just as guilty as young people.

Recently it’s been easy to find dysfunction and disengagement elsewhere. The cultural shockwaves from Brexit, the unfolding spectacle of the American presidential primaries, the piercing tragedy of Orlando, followed by horror in Nice, the unrelenting staccato of gun violence and death in America- each new event gets subsumed by the next.

In the face of this, young people seem to adopt cynicism as a standard response to a world where extremism seems logical; where outcomes are structured by “unconscious and systemic bias”.

There is a quiet war going on in New Zealand, and it is being waged on our young people- not through drone strikes or chemical warfare, but through policy logic that has produced a property crisis, an education system that perpetuates the reward of the privileged, a health system that’s struggling to cope an ageing population, let alone the increasingly complex needs of a youth population, and a justice system where you’re way more likely to end up in jail if you’re brown.

The youth demographic is growing up within a dearth of policy, and as we race toward the reality of an ageing population the absence of a positive, strategic, intentional approach to how we equip all of our young people to thrive is being thrown sharply into relief.

Last week, two reports relating directly to young people dropped quietly into the public sphere.

The first report was developed from the data collected as part of the Youth12 study by Auckland University. It showed that one in five New Zealand teenagers are living in poverty, and that there were significant differences between ethnicities, with about one third of Maori students living in households experiencing poverty and nearly half of all Pacific students.

The second report, authored by leading academics, found the unconscious bias of teachers is having a huge negative impact on the performance of Māori students- and according to our new Children’s Commissioner Andrew Becroft, this bias is mirrored across many of our other social statistics, including justice.

Both of these reports illustrate how Aotearoa NZ is failing our young people- and how structural inequalities compound and impact upon our indigenous and migrant commmunities. Without a better plan, without all young people on the waka in meaningful ways, without co-designing our future with our rangatahi, we’re going to be in big trouble as a nation.


This blog has been contributed by a member of ComVoices

ComVoices  actively promotes the value that community sector organisations and their people, both paid and unpaid, add to New Zealand’s economic and social wellbeing through information, and political advocacy and dialogue.

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