Young, dumb and disenfranchised: Why we should look to the next generation to build a better Britain

Instead of ignoring them, we should listen to poor inner city kids' ideas. Michael Simpson, a graduate fellow at social enterprise Year Here, does just that

It’s difficult to escape the stereotypical images of the youth of today. Be they the hooded, rioting vandal, or the internship-addled, penniless graduate – they don’t really inspire us with confidence in the next generation of social and political leaders. With a stagnant economy fuelling youth unemployment, at near 1m across the UK, even those of us with jobs can be excused for a gloomy outlook.

Using our lives and careers to improve society for others, when our generation is clearly in dire straits, seems like naïve idealism, doesn’t it?  

I’m part of a graduate fellowship run by Year Here – a social enterprise that challenges entrepreneurial young people to a year of tackling social issues in their own backyard. We volunteer in some of the poorest communities in London and have a go at coming up with inventive solutions to some of the big social issues of the day. It’s only been a couple of months but it’s refreshing to see a faith in our collective ability to renew the impetus driving social change.

But what good could the brash and unpolished ideas of youngsters possibly do anyway?

The cellist Yo Yo Ma once said that ‘the professional musician should aspire to the state of the beginner’. When we inhibit the instincts of the beginner – naïve questions, fresh perspectives and a sense of possibility – we stagnate. The society we live in today seems to be stifled by bureaucracy. We make incremental amendments to the crumbling foundations of old solutions rather than adopting fundamentally new approaches to how we live, work, learn and care for each other. Our generation must, as Steve Jobs said, ‘shake off this erroneous notion that life is there and you’re just gonna live in it, versus embrace it, change it, improve it, make your mark upon it'.

But, sadly, a dose of youthful thinking is not the panacea for all of society’s ills; the difficulties facing British society are huge. The population over the age of 75 is set to double in the next 30 years and 60 per cent of older people in the UK agree that age discrimination exists in their daily lives. At the other end of the age spectrum, the link between low family income and poor educational attainment is greater in Britain than in almost any other developed country. Whether it’s the ageing population, stagnant social mobility or the rise in lifestyle-related diseases, real social and political change isn’t quick, easy or clean – thousands of public sector professionals, charity workers and politicians work on these issues every day and yet they remain stubbornly entrenched.

The Year Here philosophy is to understand a problem before you attempt to solve it. Having volunteered at Hatch End High School in Harrow as part of the fellowship, I’ve discovered all sorts of unexpected things about educational disadvantage – like how discipline at the school is difficult to oversee because the architectural setup creates hidden cracks and crevices. It is only when you walk the hallways of the place that you really begin to gain the tacit knowledge and insight crucial to overcoming the hurdles that stand between us and a fairer and more effective society.

Society’s big problems are tough, gritty and difficult to shift, and many of them affect our generation directly. Despite the difficulties, the onus is on us to combine our fresh perspectives with a desire to understand the lives of others, hunger to learn the ropes of ‘social innovation’ and a bit of Jobs-style audacity and entrepreneurialism. If not us, who? And if not now, when?

Michael is a 2013 Year Here Graduate fellow currently volunteering at Hatch End High School. He recently graduated from Manchester University with first-class honours in American history, politics and literature. Follow him on Twitter.

Life and Style
Steve Shaw shows Kate how to get wet behind the ears and how to align her neck
healthSteven Shaw - the 'Buddha of Breaststroke' - applies Alexander Technique to the watery sport
Arts and Entertainment
The sight of a bucking bronco in the shape of a pink penis was too much for Hollywood actor and gay rights supporter Martin Sheen, prompting him to boycott a scene in the TV series Grace and Frankie
footballShirt then goes on sale on Gumtree
Terry Sue-Patt as Benny in the BBC children’s soap ‘Grange Hill’
voicesGrace Dent on Grange Hill and Terry Sue-Patt
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010
Arts and Entertainment
Twin Peaks stars Joan Chen, Michael Ontkean, Kyle Maclachlan and Piper Laurie
tvName confirmed for third series
Cameron Jerome
footballCanaries beat Boro to gain promotion to the Premier League
Arts and Entertainment
Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Student

Ashdown Group: Graduate UI Developer - HTML, CSS, Javascript

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Graduate UI Application Developer - ...

Ashdown Group: Marketing or Business Graduate Opportunity - Norwich - £22,000

£18000 - £22000 per annum + training: Ashdown Group: Business and Marketing Gr...

Ashdown Group: Graduate Software Developer - Norfolk - £22,000

£18000 - £22000 per annum + training: Ashdown Group: Software Developer - Norf...

Guru Careers: Graduate Resourcer / Recruitment Account Executive

£18k + Bonus: Guru Careers: We are seeking a bright, enthusiastic and internet...

Day In a Page

Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine