Select Committee on Home Affairs Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum submitted by The UK Youth Parliament



  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 levels.

  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 2002 sitting.

  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 represented.


  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 of concern:

    —  Activities, Media and Fun.

    —  Better Society.

    —  Education and Opportunities.

    —  The Environment.

    —  Health.

    —  Law and Society.

    —  UK and International Matters.

  Under these headings Drugs as an issue of concern appeared twice—under "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 list—Annex) 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 Select Committee.

  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.


  The groups began by considering the reasons why young people took drugs and quickly identified four key areas:

    —  Enjoyment/Social Recreation.

    —  Education—The Lack of Relevant Information.

    —  Experimentation—Curiosity/The Appeal of Doing Something You Shouldn't.

    —  Addiction.

Cultural influences

  It became apparent that within the heading of "Enjoyment/Social Recreation" there were cultural reasons for taking drugs. Eg—In 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, eg—to relieve MS sufferers.

Mixed messages

  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.

Drug misuse

  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 meet.

  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 go further.

  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, eg—social 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 reality—creating a cycle hard to break. This form of drug misuse leads to a breakdown in family ties and friendship—important 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, eg—future employers.

  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, eg—during 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.


  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, eg—year seven in schools.

    —  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, eg—Q & 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 in employment.

    —  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 that:

    —  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 travel—travel 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, eg—points 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, eg—what 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, eg—rehabilitation, 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, eg—on 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.

October 2001

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