Young people don’t know it yet, but co-ops are just what they’re looking for

Research from Co-operatives UK found that youth awareness of the co-op model is low – but it offers solutions to their concerns over tech, the environment and decent work

Co-operatives UK has identified mental health, work, data and tech as key issues facing young people in the UK, through a survey of over 2,000 16-25 year olds.

The apex body commissioned the poll to identify the main issues of concern to young people and find out how much they know about co-ops. It is drawing up a youth engagement strategy, which will explain to young people how co-ops can help to address those concerns.

The survey found that two thirds of 16-25 year olds do not feel there are enough good jobs for them, alongside a lack of job security and loss of control over working life; and 61% of those surveyed said they felt unfairly treated in the gig economy. 

When it comes to tech and data, 41% of young people are concerned that technology is controlled by a few companies or individuals, and almost half worry about how their personal data is used.

Co-operatives UK also cited recent research published in Nature which found that many young people around the world are experiencing “climate anxiety”. 

General mental health concerns were reported in the Co-operatives UK survey, with 68% reporting personal experience of, or knowing a friend with, mental health issues.

Co-operatives UK highlighted a number of co-operative solutions to these concerns, sharing case studies such as digital freelancers’ co-op InFact and food delivery platform co-op Wings, both launched by young people in response to dissatisfaction with the job market. Wings was formed last year as an ethical alternative to existing food delivery apps, with the aim of giving delivery riders “the option of a proper, dignified job with decent pay,” says Rich Mason, the co-op’s co-founder. 

Co-operatives UK also put forward the work of co-ops such as Open Data Services as a response to concerns over the use of data, saying that they are “dedicated to providing open and transparent data [and] guided by strong values and ethics”. 

With regard to climate change, Co-operatives UK said two thirds of member-owned businesses are taking action to reduce emissions, and a fifth of those taking action have already published net zero targets. Meanwhile, mental health is on the Co-op Group’s radar, which has to date raised £5.5m throught its partnership with mental health charity Mind. 

Despite these initiatives, the survey found that young people’s awareness of co-ops is low, with over half of respondents unable to name a single co-op.

“Even though co-ops are worth £40bn to the UK economy,” said Co-operatives UK CEO Rose Marley, “it’s a little-known business secret that can transform the lives of young people and provide hope and solutions at a time when it’s most needed.” 

But although youth awareness of co-ops is low, two thirds of young people told the survey that they are looking for an ethical employer which treats customers and staff fairly.

“It’s time to reintroduce them to the concept of joining co-operatives, as a way of having a say in where they work, live and shop,” said Ms Marley.   

“Young people are at the heart of our new strategy, which focuses on inspiring and supporting the next generation of co-operative members and embracing and influencing the ethical ownership of technology and data to enable a fairer future for us all.”

Co-operatives UK is holding young people’s summit later in the year to raise awareness of co-operative solutions available and kick start its efforts to encourage more young people to join co-ops.

A full report of the YouGov survey results will be published by Co-operatives UK later this year, in the run up to the summit.