It’s International Youth Day. Are UK politicians listening to the young people in this country?

Observed annually on August 12, International Youth Day serves to raise awareness around the world of the challenges faced by the younger generations.

From a British perspective, this year seems particularly fitting, considering the possible negative impact a no-deal Brexit could have on younger generations – along with a host of other issues that Britain’s out-of-touch political class is inflicting on us. The International Youth Day provides an opportunity to celebrate young people’s successes and shine a light on how politics is failing them.

The socially conscious generation

In the UK, we have a generation of young people growing up that face surging house prices, rising student debt, mental ill-health, rising levels of knife crime, and climate change. However, young people have not been deterred. We should all be inspired by this socially conscious generation in Britain and beyond.

Just think of all those who have joined in Greta Thunberg’s fight to address the climate emergency. Or think of Malala Yousafzai who as a teenager became the symbol of the campaign for girls’ education.

The youngest member of the House of Commons, Mhairi Black, has also used her voice on International Youth Day to urge Boris Johnson not to make young people pay the price for Brexit. “Boris Johnson must take stock of the life-changing opportunities that thousands of young people will miss out on if he continues to bulldoze ahead with his damaging ‘do or die’ Brexit”, she said in an interview with The National.

Britain’s young generation is committed to fairness, social justice and welfare. We respect the rights of all people, regardless of whether they are UK or EU citizens. We young people do not want to lose the opportunities and rights that EU membership gives us. We cannot let our politics fail young people: we must continue to fight to protect the rights of our youth.

The EU cares about young people

Photo: © European Union 2018 – European Parliament

Young people are at the heart of EU policies, including programmes focusing on the needs of young people in education, skills development and job creation. Initiatives such as the Young Leaders Programme and EU-African Union Youth Plug-In Initiative inspire decision-making and empowerment among the youth – just to give a couple of examples.

The EU Commission proposes an even stronger youth focus in the EU’s next long-term budget 2021-2027, with its plan to double the famous Erasmus+ budget to €30 billion.

Now is a more important time than ever to empower young people and raise awareness about the importance of youth civic engagement and its benefit to society.

Given that a General Election is looming, the next step is for young people to get their names on the electoral register. If there was ever a time when young British people had to fight for their rights and make their voices heard, it’s now.

Like the EU Commissioners said in a joint statement today, “investing in the potential of young people is an investment in our society”. Wouldn’t it be nice if Britain had leaders who thought the same way? No matter. With an election in the offing, young people will have a chance to de-throne our current crop of dismal leaders. It’s time to seize the moment.

Mental health research relies on collaboration. We can’t afford to miss out on EU support

Six weeks ago, I attended a departmental meeting on the impact of Brexit on research funding. Amidst all the uncertainty I remember one statement very clearly: “If we leave without a deal, we will no longer be able to apply for European Research Council grants“.

After that meeting, I felt upset, annoyed and confused (and a little hungry, it was a long meeting). But most of all, I wanted to better understand what this statement meant, so I did what I’m paid to do – a bit of research! Here’s how the EU benefits mental health research, the area I work in.

Plugging the UK’s funding gap

Mental health research, regrettably, remains chronically underfunded. With only 6% of the UK’s annual health care budget allocated to mental health, we rely on our European partners to fill the gap. The EU is the largest single funder of mental health research anywhere in Europe and the eighth-largest funder globally.

Between 2007 and 2013, the UK received €8.8 billion of EU science funding. Impressive as these numbers are, I’ve never seen them mentioned in the British media. Why is that?

What’s more, the EU’s Horizon 2020 project made nearly €80 billion available in research funding between 2014 and 2020. The UK has coordinated more projects than any other country in the Horizon 2020 programme – opportunities that would not have been available without the European Union. To me this is such a vivid example of being ‘Stronger In’.

This includes the European mental health research agenda. I’m not sure about you, but considering the prevalence of mental health issues and the lack of access to services, that’s something I quite like the sound of.

“I remember the adverts on local buses”

From 2014 to 2018, I worked at the Mood Disorders Centre at the University of Exeter. The MoodFOOD trial that got €9.8 million from the European Commission studied the role of diet and lifestyle changes in preventing depression, and Exeter was one of the four European places running the trial. The other partners were German, Dutch and Spanish.

I remember the trial being awarded to Exeter: it was the biggest trial running in our centre, bringing a whole new team of staff, and an exciting opportunity for 250 participants to take part in. I remember seeing leaflets in GP surgeries, adverts on local buses and interviews on local radio stations. The project had a huge impact on our department, our university and the city of Exeter.

The University of Exeter has since been awarded another project, worth €3.9 million. This project looks to create a mobile application to help young people monitor and learn about their emotions. The ECOWEB project is a vital piece of research, considering the growing rates and earlier onset of mental health problems among young people. Again, this funding will allow a huge number of young people in Devon the opportunity to participate in cutting-edge research. 

European research funding gives UK patients, the public and organisations an opportunity to deploy the widest range of innovative new treatments. It’s vital that we don’t cut ourselves off from these hugely beneficial pan-European research opportunities.

EU nationals are at the heart of British research

Scientific research also benefits hugely from the free movement of labour. EU freedom of movement allows researchers and clinicians to work in any member state. One in six of all academic staff at UK universities are non-UK EU nationals.

All research projects I’ve been a part of have benefited greatly from EU students, as well as interns and students on Erasmus placement schemes.

Leaving the European Union risks losing some of the brightest minds to other countries.

Leaving the European Union risks losing some of the brightest minds to other countries which still enjoy European funding. Already before the 2016 referendum, the House of Lords warned that “researcher mobility must be protected if UK science and research is to remain world-leading”.

The UK undertakes more mental health studies than any other country in Europe, and my own place of work is the largest institution. However, we do not want UK science to become isolated.

Research into psychology, psychiatry and neuroscience is a collaborative enterprise, one the EU is at the heart of. We cannot allow UK researchers to be sidelined from leading mental health research as a result of Brexit.

Multinational studies are renowned for providing the most valuable and robust research. A multi-nation union that facilitates that is therefore essential for the future for our continent. Let’s fight for our place inside it.