Wales’ political parties must act now on the urgent priorities of the nation’s young people, the world’s first Future Generations Commissioner has warned.

Sophie Howe will today (Monday, October 19) unveil her Manifesto for the Future – and she’s using the opportunity to remind politicians of their duty to respond to young people’s calls for change after COVID-19. 

There are less than 200 days until people in Wales go to the polls in May’s Senedd election, and 16 and 17-year-olds will be voting for the first time. 

As ‘guardian of the interest of future generations’ the commissioner is setting out some of the ideas political parties should commit to in their manifestoes – and she says climate action, social justice and keeping people well should top their agendas. 

Policies should protect the interests of young people worried about the climate emergency, racial inequality and the effects of COVID-19 on the way they live, she said.  

Inequalities have been exposed by the pandemic and political parties need to demonstrate how they are committed to creating green opportunities and a fairer society – she wants them to target those most disadvantaged in policymaking. 

In a series of recommendations, the commissioner says the next Welsh Government should prioritise a green recovery and set out a plan for responding to future trends like increasing automation (or ‘the rise of robots’), our ageing population and climate change, in ways that reduce inequalities rather than perpetuating them. They also need to look to the future, making sure jobs and skills are developed in futurefocused industries with the help of business and sectors beyond education, that steps are taken to address and prevent poor mental health and that there is a focus on greening communities.  

The impact of social isolation on young people, added to other pressures of the pandemic, is going to require compassionate policy making across public services, says the commissioner, whose role accompanies Wales’ pioneering Well-being of Future Generations Act, which requires Welsh Government and public bodies to think more long-term. 

Her recent TED Countdown talk Lessons on Leaving the World Better than you Found it, describes some of the people-focused policies the act has helped implement in Wales, aimed at cutting carbon emissions, and making well-being a national goal. 

Ms Howe’s office this month launched a major study into how a basic income and shorter working week could prevent further unemployment and rising poverty, as she said: “Covid urgently needs bold and brave solutions that prioritise well-being.” 

She thinks political parties should explore free public transport for under 25s, replace GCSEs and create 20-minute neighbourhoods where people can have safe access to their daily needs, including green spaces.  

To find out more about what young people want from the next Welsh Government, the commissioner collaborated with 11-17-year-olds from across Wales, who created their own Young Persons Manifesto for the Future, via poems, songs, drawings and conversations. 

The commissioner and her office worked with Children in Wales, EYST (Ethnic Minorities and Youth Support Team Wales), Diverse Cymru, Gypsies and Travellers Wales, Travelling Ahead (Tros Gynnal Plant Cymru), Disability Arts Cymru, Wales Federation of Young Farmers Clubs, Urdd Gobaith Cymru, Avant Cymru and Literature Wales, on a series of creative workshops discussing issues like climate emergency, racism, equality and ambition. 

A snapshot of the young people’s creations, produced with the help of former children’s Poet Laureate, Aneurin Karadog and creative training cooperative, Dynamix Ltd, on what they want from a future Wales, can be viewed in a video launched today (Monday.) 

Future Generations Commissioner, Sophie Howe, said: “Young people have spoken very clearly and politicians have a very clear responsibility to protect their futures. 

“This generation is proving they are brave and willing to make their voices heard – whether that’s confronting white supremacy and racism through Black Lives Matter protests, or forcing governments to take climate change more seriously. 

The pandemic is causing our young people increasing disruption and uncertainty about the future and their lives have changed dramatically. 

This is a critical Senedd election and politicians in Wales need to be progressive. 

“Policies have to show young people they’ll be supported to live fulfilling lives after COVID, and that society will learn from mistakes, plan better and do better.  

“We owe them a response to the challenges of COVID-19 that has their best interests at heart – safeguarding their well-being and long-term futures.” 

Gareth Hicks, Young Wales Participation Officer at Children in Wales, said: “The current climate has affected all of us and young people are no exception to that, with an impact on their mental and physical health and education.  

“It has been great to see young people work closely with the Future Generations team, and so powerful to hear the young people describe what they want from a Wales in the future, and the steps that need to be taken to get there.” 

Some of the things the Future Generations Commissioner is asking political parties to commit to in her Manifesto for the Future 

  • Pilot a basic income and work towards implementing a shorter working week.  
  • Introduce the 20-minute neighbourhood concept for all towns and cities in Wales, make broadband a critical service and ensure people can access natural green space within 300 metres of their home.   
  • Invest in responding to the Climate and Nature Emergency. Commit to increasing spend year on year.   
  • Decrease spending on road infrastructure and increase spending on public transport and active travel including the introduction of free public transport for young people in Wales.   
  • Invest in skills and training to support the transition to a better future, creating new greener jobs and set out a plan for responding to future trends in ways that reduce inequalities rather than perpetuating them. 

Some young people involved in the project, said… 

Participant Sandy Ibrahim, 16, from Swansea, joined the project via EYST Wales. 

She is a member of Welsh Youth Parliament, where she campaigns on issues including equality for children in asylum-seeking families and improving connectivity and school transport. 

She said: “Giving 16 and 17-year-olds the vote in Wales made us feel like politicians care about hearing our voices. 

“Politics is exciting. It’s not just about law making, it’s about how everybody is treated in their daily lives. 

“I worry about the impact the pandemic is having on the mental health of young people.  

“We’ve had instability at school, with our grades, not being able to see our friends. Some young people have not been able or not felt comfortable to join online services and groups and I worry that they’re being left behind. 

“The economy is important but I want whoever is in Welsh Government to act on the climate emergency. And make sure that supporting the mental health of young people is a priority. 

“People who risk being disconnected, like young people and asylum seekers, should be involved in decision-making.” 

 Rhian Pedley, 17, from RCT, is a member of Avant Cymru. She said: “I hope the Welsh Government take our ideas on board. Even the smallest differences will improve our lives massively. I believe it is very important that the young people in Wales have safe places to gather and spaces to socialise. 

“I think the lack of youth places is one of the reasons why mental health is such as issue with young people in Wales.”