My civic journey – and my awareness of my role in my community – started at a very young age. My sister was very politically engaged, and a keen student of sociology. As we have an eight-year age gap, we were at different educational stages, which meant she was able to teach me and share what she was learning. I distinctly remember being in a park when I was in Year 5 talking about funding cuts in the NHS – which, to other people, must have seemed quite a peculiar conversation for a nine-year-old!

A few years later, when I was around 13 or 14, I had an opportunity to engage with my local youth council. At the time, I was living in a rural area and both my parents were in full-time employment. That had been a barrier to accessing opportunities, as my parents weren’t available to drive me all of the time, there wasn’t the public transport infrastructure, and the distances were too far for me to walk. Therefore, when this opportunity presented itself and was more local, I wanted to get involved. It opened my mind to various ways I can make an impact.

When I learned a Welsh Youth Parliament was being set up, I spoke to my school and friends about it. Representatives came to my school, which made the opportunity more accessible. I applied as I was keen to be an advocate. Although my school is one of the smallest in the area, we had the highest number of applicants locally. There was a lot of hype around this opportunity, with competition between the private and state schools. After a nerve-wracking process, I was successful.

Going into Year 11, I became a lot more actively engaged with my own civic journey and the civic journeys of other young people. I have spoken at the Policy Forum for Wales about my belief in getting rid of exams. This was a personal moment of pride. I worked on the curriculum with the education minister, Kirsty Williams, and had the great experience of meeting the first minister and the health secretary via Zoom. I saw my potential to affect change – and when I was asked to become a youth ambassador for the Abergavenny Arts Festival, I saw the local community engage with me.

Since then, I’ve become involved with The Democracy Box as co-creator – which is where I first heard about the Institute for Community Studies’ Civic Journey programme, and engaged with its Advisory Board.

The pandemic brought opportunities online, and that’s helped me become more active. Previously, a lack of public transport, cost limitations and so on meant I couldn’t always be involved. If I lived further out, was younger, didn’t have a supportive family, or friends that drove, that would be even more of a barrier. But I think the biggest issue affecting young people is how we are valued economically.

The best example of this is that the minimum wage for young people aged 16 to 18 is £4.81, but £6.83 for over 18s. There is an unfairness there. In addition, age seems a strange dividing line when there is a difference in need between those from a middle-class background and working-class young people, who may have to work to survive. This can sometimes be seen in levels of attainment at A-level and GCSE. We need to ensure young people can focus on their exams, even if they have to work, so I believe there should be a wage increase across the board – and we should look at customer service and retail roles, where young people are most likely to find work. Often, these are not treated like ‘real’ jobs. We should look at this, and a conversation between employers and the education system is needed to bring in new policies that support young people aged 16 to 25 in the world of work.

I want a future where young people have a supportive, flexible state education system that’s the best it can be, and where teachers are treated with greater respect. I would put less pressure on people aged under 18 to work too. Working for under 18s should be an ‘added value’ rather than a necessity, and university should be free.

Core to my civic journey is the idea that we, as young people, should expect better.

Lloyd Mann is a youth campaigner and former member of the Welsh Youth Parliament 

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