What would young people do if they were in charge?

What would Welsh young people do if they were the new First Minister? During February over 600 children across Wales took part in my office’s discussion pack for schools, Monthly Matters, and told us what they thought. Here are six things they would do if they were at the helm.

  1. Education-related issues and ideas were high up the list. Among calls for more diverse learning experiences and a wider range of subjects, some answers reflected broader issues like the cost of school meals, equal access to clubs, and the cost of revision resources.  Young people also talked about support for themselves and their peers – ‘have more support staff in schools’, ‘help children more with reading and speech’, and ‘more helpers in schools to help with our writing’. Against a backdrop of ongoing post-pandemic challenges, these comments emphasised the need for sustained and significant investment in education recovery.
  2. Money was a huge concern for those who took part. As previous research has shown, including a national survey conducted by my office in 2022, the prices of food, fuel, and bills was at the forefront of many minds, as was cheaper houses and higher wages. I had the feeling reading the responses that many young people cared deeply about the hardship that they are inevitably seeing in their communities, and looked for solutions – ‘I will give money to the poor and give them food’, ‘make sure people get a coupon just in case they are in a bad situation with money and can’t afford things’, ‘Free food and clothes to people in need’.
  3. Transport was another hot topic. ‘Buses that run on time’, ‘affordable buses and trains’, and ‘free public transport’ were among answers that reflected a need for a more reliable and affordable system. Transport is something I hear a lot about from children and young people across Wales, and I’ll continue to call on the Welsh Government to give all young people the free public transport that will help them to access their rights – including their right to education, health, and to spend time with their peers.
  4. ‘More hospitals’, ‘better medical care’, and ‘more doctors surgeries’ were some of the many comments related to healthcare treatment. Young people’s views echoed a recent report by the Royal College of Paediatrics in Wales, which painted a stark picture of the current state of child health services and of unacceptably long waiting times for children. There must be a dedicated plan for improving children and young people’s health, reducing child health inequalities and addressing workforce issues.
  5. Local environment was a significant talking point, and in particular the cleanliness of young people’s streets and town centres. An array of comments calling for ‘more rubbish bins’ suggested that litter is a big issue for children and young people.
  6. More to do for free. Young people wanted access to a broad range of activities, sports, and opportunities to learn outside of school that didn’t cost any money – ‘ Not enough safe places to go to all year round to complete our hobbies and they are becoming more expensive and we can’t afford to do it.

These findings reflect many of the areas of concern from my 2022/23 nationwide survey ‘Ambitions for Wales’, which heard from over 10,000 children and young people, and helped shape my three-year strategy ‘Making Life Better for Children in Wales’.  The strategic priorities and key focus areas for my term of office include education, mental health, equalities and poverty.  As a progressive nation which places great emphasis on children’s human rights, I have urged the new First Minister to reflect on these messages from children when setting his own Government’s priorities.

In a statement accompanying the appointment of the new cabinet, the First Minister has expressed his commitment to giving children the best start in life, which I fully welcome, and indeed the introduction of Early Years into the Ministerial portfolio for mental health. These are critical times for children and young people, and I’ll look forward to meeting the new First Minister to discuss these priority areas in more detail, along with all of the key points that children have shared with me.