Memorandum submitted by The UK Youth Parliament
DRUGSA YOUNG PERSON'S PERSPECTIVE
The UK Youth Parliament (UKYP) was launched
at the House of Commons in July 1999. It aims to give the young
people of the UK, between the ages of 11 and 18 (inclusive) a
voice, which will be heard and listened to by government, providers
of services for young people and other agencies who have an interest
in the views and needs of young people. The UKYP is not a one-off
event. It meets nationally on an annual basis, has an on-going
Internet and local presence and gives the young people of the
UK a chance to express their views and concerns at the highest
The UKYP is composed of representatives aged
between 11 and 18 years old (inclusive) from across the UK. We
particularly encourage the involvement of young people who are
socially excluded, but also representation from established groups
such as local youth councils, and individuals. The UKYP ensures
that the young people of the UK are given a voice on any issue
that affects them and as laid out in Article 12 of the UN Convention
on the Rights of the Child, and that they are given an opportunity
to be involved in a democratic process at a national level. The
UKYP empowers young people to take positive action within their
local communities based upon their issues of concern and we encourage
community action for social change. It should also be stressed
that the UKYP is an apolitical organisation, which seeks to represent
no party political view. The UKYP is therefore solely issue based.
The UKYP sat for the first time in February
2001 in London, with a total of 211 elected MYPs (Members of the
Youth Parliament) representing two-thirds of the Local Education
Authorities (LEAs) from across England. Scotland, Wales and Northern
Ireland sent representatives and will fully participate at the
All of the MYPs were aged between 11 and 18
inclusive, and were elected by their peer group from within the
same age range. Of the 211, 100 were female and 111 were male,
with young people with both physical and learning disabilities
2. THE MANIFESTO
At the UKYP's first sitting the MYPs produced
a Youth Manifesto, which has been circulated to all Government
Departments and to which an official Government response is awaited.
The Youth Manifesto identified seven topic areas
Activities, Media and Fun.
Education and Opportunities.
UK and International Matters.
Under these headings Drugs as an issue of concern
appeared twiceunder "Health" and again under
"Law and Society". The MYPs made recommendations about
the treatment of those suffering from dependency, drug education
and awareness for young people considering taking drugs, and the
sentencing of young people convicted of dealing and taking drugs.
It was with these recommendations in mind that
the MYPs were keen to present evidence to the Home Affairs Select
Committee, about their experiences of why young people take drugs,
the effects it has on them and their local communities and what
needs to be done to combat these problems.
On Saturday 13 October 2001, 10 MYPs, two youth
representatives from YouthLink Wales, three youth workers and
the UKYP Project Co-ordinator (full listAnnex) met in the
3rd Floor Meeting Room at Channel 4, 124 Horseferry Road, London
to prepare evidence on the issue of Drugs for the Home Affairs
In order that every young person present was
given a fair chance to air their views and concerns the group
split into two groups of six, supported by the three youth workers.
They worked separately for periods of up to one hour, reporting/feeding
back to the main group at the end of each session.
4. THE EVIDENCE
The groups began by considering the reasons
why young people took drugs and quickly identified four key areas:
EducationThe Lack of Relevant
Appeal of Doing Something You Shouldn't.
It became apparent that within the heading of
"Enjoyment/Social Recreation" there were cultural reasons
for taking drugs. EgIn London, cannabis is cheap and freely
available. The cultural and ethnic mix of London society means
that young people see adults smoking cannabis on a regular basis,
leading them to believe that it is OK for them to do so too. There
was a mixed reaction to the news that Brixton had decriminalised
cannabis, but one MYP explained that the Rastafarian religion
promoted the taking of cannabis and that the high numbers of Afro-Caribbeans
in the locality who were followers of Rastafarianism meant that
the taking of cannabis in the area was commonplace.
One of the young representatives from Wales
provided a different reason for the high incidence of drug taking
in the valleys of Wales. He explained to the group about the deprivation
in the Welsh valleys, the high numbers of unemployed and the lack
of places to go and things to do for young people in the area.
For many people in Wales, drugs provide a means of escape, but
the high numbers of those taking drugs also means that people
wanting to earn a living can deal in drugs, which is often easier
than trying to get a "proper" full-time job.
The commonplace use of drugs in both London
and Wales meant that young people, in some instances, as young
as 10 years old were often dealing to their peer group.
However, drug misuse was not just a symptom
of deprivation, or cultural influence. Harder drugs were often
found being used by young people from "middle-class"
family backgrounds who received support and encouragement in their
lives, and who had positive family role models. The group discussed
the reason for the misuse of drugs by young people with a stable
family background, and identified and recognized the different
pressures young people faced in the 21st century, especially with
regard to academic achievement in school. Relationships too, within
the family have changed, and the increased need for both parents
to work, has meant that young people have had to become more independent,
often leading to young people feeling unable to discuss problems
with their "distant" parents. Unable to release their
emotions, young people allow them to build up, until eventually
they crack and find another way to release them, often through
the use of drugs.
The legal system
The group agreed that whilst the law exists
to protect the public and the individual from the harm that drugs
can cause, different cultures and societies had differing legal
and political needs when it came to drug legislation. The group
felt that the law was not representative of the UK's 21st century
society and culture. However, the group welcomed the recent drive
to provide specialist training to magistrates, judges and police
when considering how to deal with young drug offenders and their
sentencing. This was a key issue in the Youth Manifesto, and the
UKYP was keen to see this "good practice" spread to
all parts of the UK.
The group felt that whilst the taking of cannabis
was the social norm in London, and probably in various other parts
of the country, information should be widely available about how
to use drugs safely. There was overwhelming support for the use
of drugs for medical purposes, egto relieve MS sufferers.
It was felt by the group that mixed messages
were sent by the Government regarding the use of drugs. Alcohol
and cigarettes were recognised as drugs by young people, the use
of which was condoned by the Government who used the sale of these
"legal" substances to raise taxes. Equally, the group
were aware that "Bongs" and "Rizzlas" were
also freely available in shops across the country, both of which
were used in the taking of "illegal" drugs, but the
sale of which raised taxes for the Government.
The MYPs recognised drug misuse as a totally
different problem to that of taking drugs for social and recreational
reasons. Drug misuse was related to dependency, which the group
related to dealers "pushing" drugs at a cheap price
to provide a lucrative market. Once they had got people hooked
they could raise the price, which dependents would be forced to
The group expressed their concern about the
inability of users to determine the different strengths and contents
of the drugs they were using. The group were all too aware of
dealers mixing drugs with household substances to make their supplies
The group were equally concerned about the misuse
of legal drugs, such as cigarettes and alcohol which were freely
available, but caused just as much harm to families and local
communities as illegal substances.
The impact that drugs have on young people's lives
Every member of the group knew someone who took
drugs and someone who could supply them with drugs if they wanted
to take them.
It was felt that the average age around which
young people became aware of drugs and had access to them, was
between 13 and 14 as their social lives began to develop. This
is a crucial time in a young person's life when peer pressure
and image play a key role in a young person's development.
They agreed that many young people took drugs
as a means of escaping their daily lives, egsocial deprivation,
pressures of exams, inability to get a job, but that legal drugs
too were taken to achieve the same effect.
Where the taking of drugs become a "habit",
it often caused people to get into debt, which in turn led to
criminal activity to pay for the dependency, again providing a
reason to escape from realitycreating a cycle hard to break.
This form of drug misuse leads to a breakdown in family ties and
friendshipimportant stabilising factors in young people's
lives. However, the group were also concerned about the long-term
effects. A police record of drug taking stays with you for life,
thus affecting other people's views about you, egfuture
The young women in the group expressed their
concerns about the illegal use of drugs to lull other young women
into a false sense of security, and enabling date rape situations.
They were concerned about the effects of drugs on women at different
times in their lives, and the different effects and consequences
drug taking could have at those times, egduring pregnancy.
The group felt more work should be done with young women around
these issues to raise their awareness.
The group recognised the impact that drug taking
could have on an individual's mental health. Several members of
the group knew of cases of schizophrenia which had been triggered
by the taking of drugs, and felt that not enough information was
available to them about these health issues.
5. THE RECOMMENDATIONS
The group felt it crucial that education and
awareness about drugs, drug taking and the effects that drugs
can have on the lives of the individual and their family should
be widely available in the community, but also delivered through
schools. They made the following recommendations:
Drug education should be standardised
to ensure that everyone receives the same information, and that
this information should be suitable for the group at which it
is being aimed.
Drug education should start at the
same time for everyone across the country, egyear seven
Schools should ensure that time is
given for PSHE lessons to enable young people to learn life skills
as well as being able to pass their exams.
It was strongly felt that informal
teaching methods worked best, using people who had been specially
trained to reach young people from a variety of backgrounds.
Drug education should be more interactive,
egQ & A sessions with ex-users and trained peer educators.
The Connexions and Youth Services
should be used to their full potential to provide information
about drugs (and sex education) and where young people can go
to get help. The group felt this particularly important for young
people who are socially excluded, excluded from school and those
Taking drugs is a decision made by
the individual, who then must accept the consequences. Drug education
should therefore place more emphasis on the pros and cons of using
drugs, what they do to you and the legal implications. It was
felt the "Just say no" campaign was ineffective.
The group would like to see drug
education "evolve" with the use of evidence based techniques,
the development of which young people should be involved in.
Employers should have a duty of care
to ensure that there is access to drug information and welfare
support in the workplace.
Substance misuse services should
reflect the diverse needs of young people, and understand "youth"
as a transitional period in a person's life.
The provision of facilities
It was agreed by the group that many young people,
particularly in rural and deprived areas, began taking drugs because
there was nothing else to do. The group therefore recommended
Local authorities and national government
should provide more things for young people to do.
Existing local facilities should
be opened at times convenient to young people.
Many young people are prevented from
accessing local facilities because of a lack of transport and
the cost of traveltravel companies should look at offering
cheap fares/bus tokens like those received by old age pensioners.
A discount/young people's card could
be used as an incentive not to use drugs, and/or, as a reward
to young dependents for staying off drugs, egpoints rewarded
could be redeemed against clothes, CDs, books, etc.
Young people should be actively involved
in the debate about the legalisation/decriminalisation of any
drug; to include users, ex-users, enforcers and non-users (everyone)!
More clarification is needed around
the laws relating to drug offences, egwhat exactly is meant
by the phrase "intent to supply"? Does this mean that
someone passing a joint to a friend at a party could be arrested
on the grounds of "intent to supply"?
More options should be available
to the police to deal with minor drug offences without going to
court, egrehabilitation, community service, counselling;
instead of a permanent police record which could affect/scar you
for life. However, the group believed this should be implemented
with a "three strikes and you're out" rule.
The impact and effects of drugs on everyday life
Drugs have an impact on everybody's
life, so everyone should have access to the agencies that can
help them. Promotion of these agencies should be more innovative,
egon the back of store discount cards, or scratch-cards
with phone numbers on the back, in public toilets on the back
of the loo doors and above the urinals.
When a person is identified as having
a drug problem within a family, the whole family should be given
help, support and information about the problem, to enable them
to tackle it together and to prevent alienation.
Role models in the media should be
used to promote the reasons not to take drugs.
Media campaigns aimed at young people
about drug use and abuse should be developed in consultation with
young people, not just for young people.
The group concluded that a wide range of strategies
needed to be developed to meet the different cultural and social
needs of the groups of people involved in drug taking. No one
person's needs for support and information were the same, and
information about drugs, drug awareness campaigns and rehabilitation
support had to reflect this.