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The Gospel according to Swampy

Issues take precedence over politics for young people, survey shows
Disillusioned with politics and alienated from the system, young people of today are turning their back on the traditional democratic process, according to a report published today.

Although young people (18- to 24-year-olds) represent a section of the electorate significant enough to swing marginal votes, only 40 per cent are likely to vote at the general election - a figure that slumps as low as 14 per cent among the black population.

While young people are more likely than their elders to participate in voluntary work, they are turning their backs on mainstream politics and the established forms of participation. As shown by the emergence of individuals like tunneller Swampy and 16-year-old activist "Animal" in the recent anti-roads protests in Devon and elsewhere, the youth of today is more likely to get involved in direct action. They believe that getting involved in politics does not make a difference - and that those that do get involved do so for the wrong motives.

The report - entitled The Kids are Alright? and compiled by London Youth Matters - will be launched today by Cardinal Basil Hume. It reveals that Thatcher's children have more faith in Chris Evans and Gary Lineker as role models for their finances. The Chancellor of the Exchequer came equal bottom with Mystic Meg, with the support of only one in a hundred young people.

Bernard Donoghue, chair of London Youth Matters, the umbrella organisation for youth organisations in the capital, asked: "As politicians launch for the nearest camera crew, and young people become the soft target for those wanting to jump on the moral bandwagon, who is to provide a positive spin for a scapegoat generation? Someone has to ensure that their voice is heard, and ensure that the system makes an attempt to reconnect with them," he said.

In 1993, a survey by Social and Community Planning Research showed that 8 per cent of the total UK population had no interest in politics. The equivalent figure for young people in the Youth in Politics survey from 1995, quoted by The Kids Are Alright?, shows that the equivalent figure for young people is 24 per cent.

Young people's definitions of politics vary, however: 58 per cent of 22 to 25-year-olds believe politics are about things that affect their lives; 20 per cent say that politics are what goes on in Parliament; and 21 per cent say politics means nothing to them.

Individual issues tended to stir young people more than getting involved in politics generally: 73 per cent said they supported help for the homeless, 71 per cent rights for the disabled, 66 per cent the NHS, and 64 per cent animal rights.

Thirty two per cent said they had protested and 13 per cent were in favour of damage in support of animal rights. Other issues they cared about included support for single parents (56 per cent), employment issues (55 per cent), combating pollution (54 per cent), cracking down on nuclear power/weapons (52 per cent) and women's right to abortion (50 per cent).

Quoting a survey by Volunteer Centre UK (1991), the report argues that it is unfair to suggest that just because young people do not participate in mainstream politics they are apathetic. In the survey, 55 per cent of 18-24 year-olds had done some form of voluntary activity in the previous year, compared with 51 per cent of the population as a whole.

Youth priorities

While 55% of 18- to 24-year-olds had done some form of voluntary activity in the previous year, only 51% of the population as a whole had. Source: Voluntary Centre UK

Membership of Amnesty International's Youth Section rose from 1,300 in 1988 to 15,000 in 1995

Source: BYC/M-Power, 1995

Three out of five young people voluntarily participate in youth work.

Source: Agenda for a Generation, UK Youth Work Alliance, September 1996

Only two in five 18- to 24-year-olds are likely to vote at the next general election

Source: Mori/TUC, August 1996

86% of young blacks aged 18-25 say they are not certain to vote at the next general election; 4.7% of the adult population in England and Wales are not registered to vote. The highest proportions of missing voters are amongst 21- to 24-year-olds. Source: Treasury Figures