The Centre for Public Impact partnered with the Young Lambeth Co-op to host a conversation about what government legitimacy means to young people.
The event took place at the Marcus Lipton Youth Centre in Lambeth, bringing together 20 people from the youth centre, including youth workers, and members of the Lambeth Youth Council. The ages of the young people attending ranged from 16-24.
Passionate and provocative, the conversation showed that government has a long way to go if it wants to connect better with young people. We’ve picked out three key themes from the conversation.
True empathy matters as much as anything else, and simple things would really make a difference. Politicians are seen to be very distant, speaking in a language that does not resonate locally, and about things of which they don’t have direct experience. This creates real anger.
It’s not simply a question of having better representation in terms of ethnic diversity; rather, the way in which representatives conduct themselves in relation to local communities matters most. This means listening deeply to people’s personal worries, not following a set script, and even simply being known personally to young people in the area. There also was a sense that, in practice, social mobility means moving away from Lambeth and leaving other people to solve its problems.
The education system is too focused on academic achievements and leaves young people with far too few real-world skills. Participants reflected that work was never a topic at school, and all that “was in their head” was exams. The increased difficulty of GCSEs was identified as a source of huge stress, pushing people away from the system.
One participant said that “the education system is a middle-class system” that doesn’t reward non-academic forms of achievement and careers. Equally, no-one from, for example, the police, NHS, or fire services, had ever visited these young people to offer them a vision of a possible future career.
Nevertheless, some people said different things about the opportunities available to them. For most, not knowing that opportunities for work and education were available was a barrier to accessing them.
One person, however, reflected that they knew that opportunities were available but couldn’t find the motivation to follow them. This raised the further question of the effects of the environment in which young people in Lambeth live. For some, there is a real sense of hopelessness. A criminal record, which can often start before the age of 16, is a huge barrier to progress in later life. Some young people feel that they are “written off” almost before they have even started, and that these very real problems are not seen or addressed.
There is a gap in understanding between older people in general and young people. “You need to walk a mile in their shoes” before you judge young people, reflected a youth worker with 20 years’ experience. He expressed his hurt at hearing adults dismiss young people with no understanding of their world. The young participants, too, said that there was a gulf in comprehension between adults and the young, calling them “two different cultures”. As one person suggested, every older person has been young once, so perhaps campaigns are needed to remind them of what it was like.
This conversation is the third out of six global conversations that CPI has organised as part of our #FindingLegitimacy project and in partnership with local Legitimacy Champions. Our final conversations will be held at the end of November in Brussels, Canada, and India.