Between the 8th and the 14th May My Life My Say carried out its annual National Conversations Week in various cities across the United Kingdom. The purpose of these events was to promote youth and minority engagement across the country, and involve youths in places that are commonly overlooked by much of the mainstream media and political groups. MLMS also wanted to build on its previous research gathered for the UK Youth Perspectives and Priorities for the Brexit Negotiations Report and look at exactly whether young people across the UK believe the government is delivering for them on Brexit and whether they feel as though the government is listening – and if not, what do they want the government to do about it?
Beginning our week-wide event the first was held in London, followed by Alton, a small village in Hampshire. There we engaged with youths from both Treloar College and Alton College. The next event was held in Swansea with the primary group attending being an LGBTQ group. The next events, in order were hosted in Belfast, Stoke-on-Trent, Rochdale, and the final ending our conversations week was in Newcastle.
Each event had equally important questions and answers raised, but there were many common concerns and answers for the questions MLMS put forward that reflect the common feeling amongst the nation’s younger generations. During our first round of questions centred on what young generations in these areas perceived as barriers that prevented youth from becoming engaged politically. There were different reasons that are not commonly brought up in public debate over what the barriers to young activists are.
What stuck out to MLMS facilitators was the fact that parents push agendas on their youth, directly influencing how they may perceive certain political issues that may not be their own. Media was the most commonly discussed issue, it is blamed for causing much confusion in the political field. It has grown so that the common perception is that the media can no longer be trusted in delivering unbiased news. Typical reasons for anger are that it can become difficult to understand and comprehend the logic and points of certain pieces of legislations they are discussing. A feeling that young people are shouted down and forced out of politics was a common concern especially amongst youths in Swansea. A feeling of the education system failing young people by not providing adequate education on the functions and processes of the political system was commonly brought up as a deterrent forcing young people out of the political scene. The plaguing problem recently in the global political world has also affected politics in younger generations, whilst the problem of politics having become extremely polarized has been presented as another deterrent for youths.
MyLifeMySays’ second set of questions looked to gauge if younger generations felt confident in the government’s ability to deliver a Brexit that works for future generations. Reasons vary across the country, but the one main thing is that it has become apparent that young people are not confident on the ability of the government to lead the UK through a successful Brexit.
Reasons that held significant relevance from what was gathered included issues such as politicians being more concerned with their own agendas and businesses, followed as well by the issue that Brexit has many grey areas within it that are answered by empty promises. There is too much in-fighting within parties forcing the question on when parties will be able to reach a collective agreement on what to aim for in Brexit negotiations. This itself puts much stress on younger generations especially considering that without a common consensus, there cannot be confidence in the parties who were in favour of Brexit itself. A common problem is that social media, being a tool that politicians and experts can utilise to connect and inform young people, is not properly handled. This is a problem that is both blamed on politicians/media groups as well as younger generations themselves. The reasoning for such is that fake news is a result of a lack of fact checking and lack of concern over what is shared on certain platforms. There are many concerns over how a Brexit should unfold, a lack of information on uncertainties such as Ireland, and whether it is beneficial to remain within the single market are common concerns. The idea of what kind of Brexit is more beneficial for young people is split, there are those who believe in following the vote and leaving the union entirely, while there are those who believe it is wiser to seek out a softer Brexit.
A concern felt especially in Belfast was whether people in Britain understood the problems facing people in Northern Ireland. There is a feeling of misunderstanding on behalf of both the government and the public.
An important concern was raised during a few of these conversations regarding what type of deal is likely. It revolved around the idea that there is a loss of “respect” for the United Kingdom in the European Union. The concern this raises is that any type of deal brokered by the EU will difficult for the UK to cope with initially. The loss of ERASMUS+ is a common concern over the loss of many of the perks that the UK has gained from EU membership, ERASMUS+ especially as it is very popular amongst the younger generations and students.
The general consensus gained from this question provided MLMS with the notion that young people are not confident in the capacity of the government to create a Brexit designed to better benefit young people.
From what was understood, the younger generation believes there should be another vote, not on Brexit but on the form of Brexit the feel would be best for the UK – “hard” or “soft.” The idea on lowering the voting age to 16 had come up in many different cafe events, promoting the idea that there are young people who do want to become politically engaged. This idea pushes the concern that young people have that there is a lack of youth representation in politics, and that there are stereotypes that prevent younger politicians from progressing through their careers. It became clear that younger generations also appreciate events, such as those hosted by MLMS, and wish to further the amount of them, they believe they do help promote political education and create platforms from which young individuals may express their political ideas.
The events raised many concerns that the younger generations have with the issues following Brexit. It gave many young and otherwise possibly disenfranchised individuals the opportunity to share their opinions on how they will be affected and what their expectations regarding Brexit are. All of this important information as it leads us to help and create a better Brexit for people who might otherwise feel as though the political system has left them behind.