'Generation Apathetic': Why we ignore these young people at our peril

We need to ask why young people are so disenchanted with mainstream politics

Share

It is Thursday afternoon and I am in a room full of 200 teenagers listening, debating and cheering as 14 of their peers pitch to be Camden’s new youth MP. These teens are part of what a new Demos and the National Citizen Service report calls “Generation Citizen”.

They are a group more used to the label “Generation Apathetic” because of their disengagement from formal politics. Kai, 15, and Jordan, 17, sitting by me, echo young voices I’ve heard across Britain when they say “politics just isn’t for us” – almost in the same breath as they give their deeply political views on Stop and Search, and inequality in education provision, and reel off all their voluntary work.

It is this paradox that the Generation Citizen report draws out, the mix of activism and optimism about social change and deep cynicism about political institutions. Young people are engaging in social change in myriad ways – from community campaigns and online activism through to spoken word poetry. Often they express political values in the choices they make in their lives; where to work and what to buy. As one young social entrepreneur put it to me: “I am the change I want to see in the world.” Some are leading activism in their communities, like Camilla Yahaya, who at 16 bought 10,000 teenagers together in Lewisham to campaign for safer streets.

It can be hard to map because their activism is springing up in loose, organic networks. They are creating new models of organisation, leadership and change. The rest of us struggle to keep up – especially politicians.

It is a tiny minority who will stand for a party – the average councillor is 60. This matters because young voices get lost in the resource questions we face. In the 2010 budget those aged 16 to 24 faced cuts to services worth 28 per cent of their annual household income, compared with just 10 per cent for those aged 55 to 74.

But young people haven’t given up on democratic change. The Generation Citizen report finds that 84 per cent of 14- to 17-year-olds plan to vote. Unfortunately we know this support evaporates in an actual election. But instead of blaming young people we need to ask why this is happening.

Young people tell me that they want to see more authenticity and honesty from political leaders. They want to see Parliament reflect their classroom diversity and they want to be more involved in decisions. They want political parties to engage them over issues and they want to hear leaders talking about youth unemployment with the same fear, anger and urgency that they feel for their futures.

Ignoring young people threatens the future of our democratic institutions, it narrows the potential pool of candidates and worst of all it wastes the energy, ideas and enthusiasm of a generation ready and willing to redefine citizenship.

Georgia Gould is a Labour councillor for Kentish Town ward in Camden, north London. Her book, Wasted: How Misunderstanding Young Britain Threatens Our Future, will be published by Little, Brown later this year.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Senior Marketing Manager - Central London - £50,000

£40000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (Campaigns, Offlin...

Head of Marketing - Acquisition & Direct Reponse Marketing

£90000 - £135000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Head of Marketing (B2C, Acquisition...

1st Line Service Desk Analyst

£27000 - £30000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client who are...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Birmingham - Huxley Associates

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Huxley Associates are currentl...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Women-only train carriages would be an insult to both sexes  

Women-only carriages would be an insult to both sexes

Katie Grant
Women-only carriages would be an insult to both sexes  

Women-only carriages would be an insult to both sexes

Katie Grant
Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

Last chance to see...

The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

Truth behind teens' grumpiness

Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

Hacked photos: the third wave

Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?
Royal Ballet star dubbed 'Charlize Theron in pointe shoes' takes on Manon

Homegrown ballerina is on the rise

Royal Ballet star Melissa Hamilton is about to tackle the role of Manon
Education, eduction, education? Our growing fascination with what really goes on in school

Education, education, education

TV documentaries filmed in classrooms are now a genre in their own right
It’s reasonable to negotiate with the likes of Isis, so why don’t we do it and save lives?

It’s perfectly reasonable to negotiate with villains like Isis

So why don’t we do it and save some lives?
This man just ran a marathon in under 2 hours 3 minutes. Is a 2-hour race in sight?

Is a sub-2-hour race now within sight?

Dennis Kimetto breaks marathon record
We shall not be moved, say Stratford's single parents fighting eviction

Inside the E15 'occupation'

We shall not be moved, say Stratford single parents
Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

Talks between all touched by the crisis in Syria and Iraq can achieve as much as the Tornadoes, says Patrick Cockburn
Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

The Tory MP speaks for the first time about the devastating effect of his father's bankruptcy
Witches: A history of misogyny

Witches: A history of misogyny

The sexist abuse that haunts modern life is nothing new: women have been 'trolled' in art for 500 years
Shona Rhimes interview: Meet the most powerful woman in US television

Meet the most powerful woman in US television

Writer and producer of shows like Grey's Anatomy, Shonda Rhimes now has her own evening of primetime TV – but she’s taking it in her stride
'Before They Pass Away': Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

Jimmy Nelson travelled the world to photograph 35 threatened tribes in an unashamedly glamorous style