Let’s talk: inspiring young people to play an active role in communities

Too often, young people aren’t shaping the decisions which affect their lives, but they still inherit the consequences. And – as we’re seeing more and more frequently –...

Co-operative Group members are taking part in Let’s Talk this month – an online discussion panel to shape the future of the organisation. This week it is talking about inspiring young people, and here Piers Telemacque from NUS sets out what the Group can achieve …

Too often, young people aren’t shaping the decisions which affect their lives, but they still inherit the consequences. And – as we’re seeing more and more frequently – these consequences are not always good. But I believe that the Co-operative Group can help young people to work alongside the rest of society, creating a future which is fairer not just for young people, but for everyone.

It hasn’t been great to be young recently. Look at the financial crisis of 2008. A million young people were unemployed thanks to a mess they didn’t create, caused by policies they didn’t support. Look at the massive environmental problems we’re facing. People approaching retirement today have burned more fossil fuels in their lives than the entirety of humanity before them, with future generations left to shoulder the burden.

When young people look at the track record of their parents’ generation, they don’t see a model example of responsible citizenship. Why would they be inspired to get politically engaged, and to create the society they want to see? But we also know that young people want things to be different. They want a more equitable, more sustainable future, and we see the evidence of this right across the country.

All over the UK, economics students are rejecting courses which reinforce the systems which caused the crash, forming groups and societies to demand alternatives to traditional neo-liberal teaching. And this is just one academic discipline. Every year, 80% of students from all academic backgrounds tell us that they want their institutions to incorporate sustainability, and 60% want to learn more about it. Despite the rise in fees and the crash of the jobs market, this support for a sustainable future has remained exactly the same.

Stories like this demonstrate that students care about becoming part of the solution to our political, economic and environmental problems – and care enough to take action. I know that young people can change things, and that they want to change things. But for that to happen, we need to empower them properly, acting in solidarity with the rest of society.

The political system often ignores groups who aren’t engaged, and young people are one of these groups. Our politicians gear policies towards those they know can hurt them at the ballot box: older generations who turn out to vote. With young people disengaged, intergenerational inequality widens, and disengagement becomes a vicious circle. But if the Co-operative Group adopts ‘empowering young people’ as one of its priority social goals and takes decisive action, we can reverse this trend. We can get young people organised, skilled, informed and – most importantly – heard.

This isn’t a battle of us against them. It’s about making things fairer and helping young people to play an active and equal part in their communities, the political system, and creating a sustainable future.

In the 12 months ahead, we have the crucial United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP21) in Paris, where we need to see world leaders put aside short term interest to tackle devastating climate change. In the UK we also have the general election, where we want a radical overhaul of policies which affect young people in all aspects of their lives, ranging from education to employment. As we enter into such a critical political period, it’s more important than ever to engage young people, empowering them to play their part in shaping the decisions which affect them locally, nationally and globally.

Everywhere we look, we’re confronted with negative portrayals of young people, but I know it’s not a true reflection of how things actually are. Young people want society to reflect the shared ethical values of the Co-operative Group and NUS, shaping longer term decision making and creating a fairer and more just society for everyone. I hope the Co-operative Group decides to support youth empowerment and helps us to secure a new deal for the next generation. We need the support to make it happen.

Take part in the Co-operative Group’s discussion on Let’s Talk.

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