We must safeguard our younger members and be radical – reasons why we should not raise the age limit for Young Liberals

It has been the buzz for years and the main topic within our echo chamber of an organisation: the Young Liberals want to raise the membership age ceiling from 26 to 30. But this isn’t the type of “raise the roof” action that the organisation should be taking.

In previous articles written, you’ve heard about the issues that the Young Liberals face. Yet, at the same time, you can be a supporter of our campaigns and guide us without being in the organisation. We already turn to our elected members, local parties and other inspirational people in the party for guidance and wisdom, so why does being in the Young Liberals after the age of 26 matter? Instead, we hope that members are mature enough to see that some major issues aren’t being addressed in these reforms.

There is a widespread belief that these reforms have been overwhelmingly and unanimously supported within the Young Liberals’ membership, but we beg to differ. At their Glasgow Conference, we were told the idea was met with an astounding approval. Yet with approximately 35 members present at the conference, this is not, and cannot be, a fair representation of the organisation.

And at the same conference, members of the organisation under 18 were informed they had to not only get written consent to attend the conference, but also were not allowed to stay at the hostel where the conference was taking place. The reason given was:

This year Young Liberals have made the decision not to offer accommodation to members under the age of 18. (…) Young Liberals are not sufficiently trained to adequately safeguard such members (…) such training could be in place for future Young Liberals Conferences, however not for current conferences. Members are free to stay in private accommodation in the city.

This was unacceptable. How can our organisation not have in place the proper training to include all our members? Letting them stay off the premises is not any safer, neglects their safety and ignores their accommodation needs.

Mistakes like these make it clear that the organisation cannot deal with our current capacity. As older members, it is our duty to care for and make younger members comfortable while keeping their safety a top priority. We’ve all heard some of the incidents that have occurred due to a lack of safeguarding, some of which escalated to dangerous heights. This could have been avoided if there was more of a culture of respect and caring, something that is key to liberal philosophy.

This is an organisation that can’t even respond to its current members. There have been multiple occasions where important emails from members and societies have been missed, or just simply ignored, despite multiple people chasing them up. Increasing the membership would only make this worse.

At the end of the day, being young is great, some would say the best years of their lives but at some point, it is important to end that chapter and start a new one. It is best to look back fondly at the people you met and the memories that you made within the organisation.

We need to ensure that the Young Liberals cater for their current membership before they think about expanding.

A link to the conference FAQs is here.

* Jasneet Samrai is a former YL Regional Chair-Elect, a member of YL and is an ordinary member of the South East Liberal Democrat Executive. Leena Sarah Fahrat is a member of Rhyddifanc Cymru (Welsh YL), the PPC for Westminster and the Senedd for Carmarthenshire East and Dinefwr.

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  • Rebecca Plenderleith 24th Apr '19 - 1:43pm

    The membership age for Scottish Young Liberals is already 29 and under and we haven’t had any safeguarding issues. In fact it’s incredibly helpful to have these older members because it means that the younger members have people to look to for guidance when they’re unsure of things.

  • If anything, raising the age is vital for safeguarding. It allows young professionals with more experience than students, which the current age limit basically results in, to be part of safeguarding and awareness. Furthermore, if you’re worried about a 29 year old but not a 21 year old when there’s very little difference between the two, there is something there that raises a question. The silly comments on the article written by Erin Yarrow acting as if a 27 year old would regularly hang out with a 13 year old are ridiculous and also doesn’t change anything as we currently have over 18s and under 18s mixing anyway. Personally I believe YL would be better to be 16 or 18 and over, with material distributed on how local parties can engage younger individuals.

    YL made exactly the right decision to not have under 18s staying around over 18s and seem fully aware of safeguarding issues.

  • Ben Whitlock 24th Apr '19 - 2:44pm

    Pretty much everyone one of Young Liberals sister organisations has a significantly higher age range than 26, most actually go up to 35, and they are still able to ensure the well being of younger members. There is no reason why YL wouldn’t be able to do the same.

    In fact they often make more effective youth wings for their mother party because they provide a space for older members and younger ones to come together and learn from each other. Having older members would mean YL can draw on the professional skills that they have developed, which could in fact lead to better safeguarding of under 18s.

  • Morgan-Ross Inwood 24th Apr '19 - 3:26pm

    Back in 2017 I was elected as an Honorary Vice President of Young Liberals, a role I feel I am not fulfilling given various problems including personal and financial. I am torn over whether to stand for another 2-year term later this year. I support the age increase as there are many people, I think between the ages proposed whom fall through the cracks as in they are unaware of the opt-in processes and so remain a member of the Party but not YL. The proposals I believe addresses this point as these people would be on the radar though there is the issue of communication between membership and YL or lack of an example would be membership not informing YL that someone is in the age-range proposed so YL have no record.

    Safeguarding is a matter I am interested in due to personal and other reasons. I have looked at Adult Safeguarding through studying various Social Care courses but not child. I have been Enhanced DBS Checked twice for other roles which involved working with vulnerable adults. A DBS Check is required for anyone working with children, elderly and vulnerable adults. It is up to YL to respond to this post. I have questions to ask which are: is there need for safeguarding, training needs, how much it costs, DBS checks and who pays etc? I hope these questions are taken into account by Young Liberals.

  • Anonymous YL Member 24th Apr '19 - 3:55pm

    This article is riven with factual errors. For context, I am a YL member of two years, have never been on the Exec, didn’t go to either Glasgow or York, but am very happy with how YL is being run at the moment.

    Raising the age limit has not been “the buzz for years” – it was first mooted in Autumn 2018. The claim that the organisation is an “echo chamber” is not substantiated.

    Nobody has claimed that the proposals have been met with “astounding approval”. Although they were accepted unanimously at Glasgow, consultations are still taking place, including what I hear was a packed out fringe at Spring Conference in York, and an ongoing online consultation, with continuing discussions with all levels of the party.

    As for the bizarre invective against the organisation of Glasgow Conference, two points should be made. Firstly, the Conference was not being held in “the hostel”, but at Glasgow University. Secondly, having looked it over, the author is correct to say that members under the age of 18 were not able to stay in the hostel, but this was the right decision by the Executive for obvious safeguarding reasons. Or would the author rather that the Young Liberals Executive had exposed themselves to significant legal liability and potentially have created significant welfare problems in the event that something had happened?

    As a (non-Exec) member of YL, I have never seen an Executive more committed to a culture of “respect and caring”, and in the couple of years I have been a member, have never doubted that that culture exists. It is awful to suggest otherwise. The insinuations made by the authors of this piece are without any evidence at all, and completely undermine the enormous volunteer work that goes thanklessly into organising events like these. It’s a shame that the authors appear to have spent the past few months trying to tarnish the reputations of these volunteers with baseless allegations.

    Allegations are made about missed emails. I don’t know about that, but I know by bothering to read the minutes of Exec meetings and to see the announcements made by members of the Exec that there have been significant technical problems with the YL email systems which are only just being resolved now. It seems unfair to blame volunteers for problems which are beyond their control.

  • Anonymous YL Member 24th Apr '19 - 4:44pm

    I’m not sure I agree with the general tone and thread of the article- it’s arguing against something that is really common sense for YL to do. There are also a plethora of other things to be critical of the current Executive about- the seemingly systemic inability or lack of will to tackle cronyism and favouritism amongst the Executive and their friends of which I know the author of the article has campaigned about seems to me to be far, far more pressing an issue.

  • Although i am way, way past the age to be a young anything, i am gratified to know that a)
    YL executive meeting minutes are actually published, and b) somebody reads them. Must be doing something right !

  • Steven Pettitt 24th Apr '19 - 6:16pm

    It is unfortunate that such an excellent article bringing up fair points, and holding back when it comes to being overly heavy on people, there has been unnecessary negative attacks against the authors.

    I have been a member of YL for I guess almost 4 years now. In the first two years it was a fairly balanced place – sure there was heavy debate and a little drama, but there was at least some mutual respect between most people. Within the last two years it’s become more of cesspit of intolerance and toxicity. One of the comments to this article, by an anonymous member of YL, unjustifiably attacks the authors as merely looking for an excuse to start trouble.

    In the last few months we’ve seen evidence of disgruntlement with the environment within Young Liberals – particularly in an open letter against bullying that was signed by almost 60 individuals, and a few branches. The exec had tried to hush this up, and had avoided making commentary on the topic. This is one of the reasons why an increase in maximum age is not ideal at this moment – maybe in future when culture and engagement with current membership has improved.

    I am going to avoid making this comment about the credibility of the above open letter’s claims, and going into specific examples. I may make a video going into depths in future. However, it is worth pointing this out in order to paint a picture as to why there is a failure to engage with current membership, and why some people feel that safeguarding may become an issue. When some members have been smeared, discriminated against, censored, bullied, patronised, and otherwise made to feel excluded, it is hard to not feel this way. If anyone who knows me and hasn’t seen any evidence of such problems wishes to, message me on Twitter or Facebook, and I can send a few examples.

    One point I will concede that is an improvement for YL is the increase in efficiency of communications. Though for some reason there has been a slip in the uploading on minutes, and there are currently none for April or March, and the minutes for February are not viewable without permission.

  • Morgan-Ross Inwood 24th Apr '19 - 7:28pm

    Further to my previous comment

    My door as I have said numerous times is always open and I am sure the other Honorary Vice-President’s will say the same, their doors being open too. There is the avenue open, so why is not being used? I am happy to be contacted in private about sensitive issues. I was contacted when I asked for some context regarding an open letter that was doing the rounds and I contacted a member of the YL Executive in private to see if they were aware and they were and I was suggested to leave it so I have no idea what is being done about that letter

    I check my YL emails regularly and the last email I received was earlier this year and nothing since then at all I must point out which is another example of the lack of communication issues.

  • Harry Samuels 24th Apr '19 - 9:04pm

    Steven – I’m glad you agree that communications have improved. As for the minutes, I don’t know what the issue was with February’s lot but I have reuploaded them as a PDF so they should now work; and as for meetings in March and April, March’s meeting was at conference and as far as I remember was made up entirely of closed business, and the next meeting is on Saturday, so that explains the gap.

  • Inactive YL member 24th Apr '19 - 11:02pm

    As a YL member (albeit, luckily, inactive) wouldn’t a better use of time be actually campaigning for the party? Knocking on doors and delivering leaflets, and not faffing about in an organisation which is notoriously bad at campaigning and not helping young candidates unless they are friendly? Seems a bit odd to me

  • Whether older members should be allowed to join as “ordinary members” is an interesting question that is, strangely, ignored in the majority of comments above in favour of internal griping.

    I am 29, and consider my self a young liberal. (Small y, small l). I would like to be affiliated with, and support Young Liberals – but I am wary of older, brasher activists drowning out the views of younger members.

    I’ve already seen this tendency in YL executives & party officers who use experience and years of party membership as a trump card against criticism. And no doubt it is a tactic used by 80 year old members against 30 year olds (or even 60 year olds).

    Thus this – more than the somewhat difficult argument around safe guarding is probably what should inform the argument. (Difficult in that whilst I appreciate the duty of care over younger members, it is unfair to prejudge older members as a threat).

    I would suggest – by all means, include old fogies as tier 2 members/ supporters, involve us, consult us, support us as we support you – but maintain YL as a youth-led organisation, where decisions are ultimately made by young members.

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