As part of our ‘Ideas for an Incoming Government‘ series, Professor Peter Hopkins from the School of Geography, Politics and Sociology writes about the urgent need to end the marginalisation and misrepresentation of young people.
A number of recent policy changes have placed an unfair burden upon young people, particularly for those who live in the most socially and economically deprived areas. In England, Educational Maintenance Allowance has been withdrawn, tuition fees of up to £9000 a year have been introduced for those wanting to study at university, and many young people across Britain are expected to undertake unpaid internships or voluntary work to gain ‘work experience’. Young people are bearing the brunt of these policy changes unlike the generations before them. It is time to start investing in young people by providing additional youth services and funding for educational training, and to stop marginalising, excluding and misrepresenting young people.
Research has been undertaken to counter these problematic and negative representations of young people, particularly those from the most deprived backgrounds.
- Hill et al (2006) undertook research with children and young people from disadvantaged neighbourhoods and found that they hung out in groups in order to protect themselves rather than to threaten others.
- In a more recent example, MacDonald et al (2013) searched for ‘intergenerational cultures of worklessness’ in response to political rhetoric about ‘three generations of families where no-one has ever worked’; interviews with 20 families in Glasgow and Middlesbrough who were long term workless found no evidence of intergenerational cultures of worklessness.
- Related to this, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation noted that in 2007-08, 31% of children were in families in poverty (4 million children).
- Recent research with students involved in the Newcastle Occupation found that the young people who participated in this social movement were politically sophisticated, astutely aware of political matters and savvy about how to have their views heard by those in power (Hopkins, Todd and Newcastle Occupation, 2012).
What is the solution?
- Creating environments where young people can express their views, be listened to, and encouraged to foster social change with others (including with adults and older people)
- Providing additional educational funding and paid training opportunities for young people, particularly those from the most economically and socially deprived backgrounds
- Representing young people better in the media (consider for example, the sophisticated ways in which students engaged with political issues through organisations, occupations and marchers in protest at government proposals about the funding of education).
- Much of the work of the Intergenerational Foundation demonstrates clearly that young people are being treated very unjustly in many areas including education, employment and housing. Moreover, such stark inequality between the generations means that young people are continually losing out compared to older and wealthier generations.
- Recent research with young people growing up in social and economic deprivation in the UK has found that austerity cuts have meant that services in such areas have been cut back dramatically with religious organisations being some of the only services left to support young people (see this Religion and Society resource)
- Many churches have experienced disinvestment or have been closed, leaving young people with very few, if any, services in their local area. This is particularly challenging for young people from such backgrounds that may be experiencing family breakdown, bereavement and social isolation.
- The protests against the rise in tuition fees in England demonstrates that young people are politically engaged and aware of their situation (as opposed to their dominant representation amongst politicians and in the media as being disengaged, apathetic and inert). Research surrounding this involved interviews with young people involved in the Newcastle Occupation (Hopkins, Todd and Newcastle Occupation (2012) Occupying Newcastle University: student resistance to government spending cuts in England. The Geographical Journal 178 (2) 104-109).
It is time to invest in young people in order to counter negative assumptions about their peer group behaviours, their engagement with work, and to minimise their experiences of poverty.
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