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Young people in the time of COVID-19

- 03 08 20

HOPE not hate Charitable Trust’s Fear and HOPE reports have, since 2011, tracked the public mood to understand how fears and hopes unite and divide us. We split the population into ‘identity tribes’ based on a shared worldview, which we watched shift and change over time. These tribes helped us to understand resilience and vulnerability to hateful narratives, and to better understand how major events and political changes have contributed to a shift in how people saw identity issues.

This new report builds on this research, looking specifically at how fear and hope shape the attitudes and behaviours of young people, aged 16-24, in Britain today.

Key Takeaways

1
Instability and uncertainty have been major features in the lives of young people in Britain.
2
Cuts have slashed the support of youth services and social security, and young people today are more likely now than older generations were at their age to be in poverty and debt, as a result of precarious work and high housing costs, and disproportionately employed on zero hours contracts.
3
In the wake of Coronavirus, Brexit, and ongoing political turmoil, those aged 16 to 24 are beginning their adult lives in a period of even more uncertainty, inheriting political choices of older generations in which they weren’t given a say.
4
Men’s rights and anti-feminism are increasingly become a slip road to the far right, appealing to young men feeling emasculated in an age of changing social norms.
5
Many young people are feeling alienated, distanced from a political system which they don’t feel represents them, and pessimistic about a future in the wake of a pandemic.
Cover "Young People in the Time of Covid"

A FEAR AND HOPE STUDY OF 16-24 YEAR OLDS

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CHAPTERS: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8

1

Young people in the time of COVID-19: Foreword

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Chapter 1: Young people in the time of COVID-19: Foreword

As a 23 year-old living in Britain today, I recognise and identify with the analysis within this important report from HOPE not hate Charitable Trust.

Young people like me have spent much of our lives bearing the impact of austerity and cuts to services as well as facing insecure employment. I myself have been employed on a zero hours contract and have seen the ease with which my friends and I have had our hours changed at the drop of a hat. Instability and uncertainty have marked our lives as young people, yet my generation’s world view is more compassionate, brave and optimistic than those who have gone before us.

This report demonstrates that the majority of young people see a real possibility for change and that we want a stake in our futures. The intelligence, compassion and courage I see from young people across Britain today, particularly around issues such as refugee protection and climate change, gives me real hope for the future. I urge decision makers to listen carefully to the rallying cry of my generation for a fairer, greener world built on the principles of solidarity and compassion.

Nadia Whittome
Member of Parliament for Nottingham East and Honorary President for the British Youth Council

2

Young people in the time of COVID-19

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Chapter 2: Young people in the time of COVID-19

Introduction

HOPE not hate Charitable Trust’s Fear and HOPE reports have, since 2011, tracked the public moodto understand how fears and hopes unite anddivide us. We found that a traditional left-right,class based political axis was failing to explain peoples’ values, attitudes and voting behaviour.Instead, we looked at how attitudes in relation toculture, identity and nation were formed on thebasis of a complex interplay of class, personalexperience, economic security, life circumstance,and media consumption.

We split the population into ‘identity tribes’ based on a shared worldview, which we watched shift and change over time. These tribes helped us to understand resilience and vulnerability to hateful narratives, and to better understand how major events and political changes have contributed to a shift in how people saw identity issues. This new report builds on this research, looking specifically at how fear and hope shape the attitudes and behaviours of young people, aged 16-24, in Britain today.

Instability and uncertainty have been major features in the lives of young people in Britain. The UK economy has wronged young people for decades, as the closure of training programmes, market de-regularisation and privatisation have closed routes to security for many, with low wages the norm, unemployment rates consistently higher for young people than older cohorts, and employment primarily in the service sector where there are fewer opportunities to progress.

Further, 16-24 year olds today have grown up in the shadow of the 2007 economic crisis, recession and imposition of austerity, adversely affected by weak jobs markets, poor housing and cuts to public services. These cuts have slashed the support of youth services and social security, and young people today are more likely now than older generations were at their age to be in poverty and debt, as a result of precarious work and high housing costs, and disproportionately employed on zero hours’ contracts. The first generation to have grown up online and with social media, Gen Z are the most diverse, politically liberal and educated age set to date. However, in the wake of Coronavirus, Brexit, and ongoing political turmoil, those aged 16 to 24 are beginning their adult lives in a period of even more uncertainty, inheriting political choices of older generations in which they weren’t given a say. This report finds that on the whole, young people hold more progressive social attitudes than older cohorts, but our research on the far right and our work in classrooms across the country has also uncovered some worrying trends among young people, particularly young men.

Executive Summary

1 – Hopes and fears of young people in 2020

The attitudes of young people today are diverse, marked by their experiences, identities, hopes and fears. This report lays out how young people’s worldview places them on a spectrum from left wing activists to reactionary conservatives, and looks at how this informs their behaviour. We have created a new segmentation model of seven groups, each containing people with a similar worldview.

Because young people are overall more socially liberal, we have several groups who hold progressive views who make up around half the population. Two of these groups are politically motivated, with one voicing more faith in the political establishment. The third is aspirational, driven by their own interests, while the fourth is more disengaged. We find a relatively large apathetic section, who are generally indifferent around political issues and a more ambivalent group who have mixed views on social issues. Finally we find a more conservative group, within which some members engage with racist conspiracies and far right ideologies.

2 – Male supremacy and white supremacy

Young people share more socially liberal views than older people, but many, especially young men, hold deeply problematic views around race and gender. A large majority (79%) of young people say that there is a place for every kind of person in this country, compared to 63% of our December 2019 nationally representative poll, and 81% say that having a wide variety of backgrounds and cultures is part of British culture, compared to 63% in the same nationally representative poll. Young people also share more progressive views around LGBT+ issues. Yet young people have less positive attitudes of feminists, and many young men reject feminism as an ideology that displaces men. The overlay between male supremacy and white supremacy, and its pervasiveness among young people presents huge challenges as the men’s rights movement increasingly acts as a slip road to the far right. A backlash against feminism aligns male supremacy with white supremacy as it plays on white male insecurities to push back against progressive values and increasingly liberal social norms.

3 – “Generation Coronavirus”

Many are pessimistic about how coronavirus will affect their future and large numbers of young people are already struggling as a result of lockdown measures. Only half of young people think that in five years’ time they will have a good job and a decent place to live. Young people are facing significant challenges in work, education, wellbeing and household finances as a result of the coronavirus outbreak, many of which will outlive the pandemic. More than half (55%) of young people feel that the coronavirus outbreak has limited their options for the future, with young people from low income backgrounds or in precarious work most likely to feel anxious. These anxieties are opening up generational divides; a majority (67%) of young people agree that their generation will pay the price for a pandemic that has mostly affected older people; just 8% disagreed with this.

4 – Under pressure

More than half of young people state mental health in the three greatest issues they personally face. Young women and young people from Black and Asian backgrounds are most likely to report feeling under pressure in their day-to-day lives. With such uncertainty and high levels of insecurity over the future, it is not surprising that the coronavirus outbreak has had a significant impact on the wellbeing of young people. Almost half (44%) of young people reported mental health as the biggest issue they personally face at the moment, ahead of coronavirus (36%), and more than half (56%) of young people, including 62% of young women and 60% of 16 and 17 year olds say that they feel under pressure in their day to day lives.

5 – Politically disconnected

Most young people feel disconnected from the political system and feel that those in power do not care to represent them. Pessimism among the younger generation about the impacts of Brexit have only added to a widespread sense of political neglect. Three quarters of young people believe that politicians don’t care what young people think; just 25% think that they do. Young women are particularly disillusioned with politicians; 80% think politicians don’t care about what young people think and just 5% say that the political system works well. Less than a quarter (24%) of young people agree that their generation is well represented in political discussion; 48% disagree. This increases to 59% among 16 and 17 year olds, who are not eligible to vote.

6 – The rise of conspiracy theory

Large numbers of young people, especially young men are accessing extreme content online and many young men think political violence is acceptable. Many young people believe, or are receptive to, popular conspiracy theories, with young men more likely to believe conspiracy theories rooted in racism. While just 29% of 16-24 year olds say that they watch the news daily, large numbers of young people, especially young men, are consuming alternative media sources online, with some accessing extreme, conspiratorial or misogynistic content online. Almost half of young men (46%) believe that political violence can be necessary in extreme circumstances. Many young people believe in conspiracy, with young men more likely to accept conspiracy theory based on racist tropes.

Worryingly, 14% of young people, and 19% of young men, think it is true that Jewish people have an unhealthy control over the world’s banking system. Moreover, 15% of young people, and 20% of young men, say that is true that the official account of the Nazi Holocaust is a lie and the number of Jews killed by the Nazis during World War II has been exaggerated on purpose.

Due to the capital some seek by being ‘outrageous’ or ‘controversial’ in contemporary online culture, a behaviour which is especially widespread among young men and can frequently occur in relation to the Holocaust, it is difficult to gauge whether all of those who agreed with this statement genuinely believe it. However, a cavalier response to these statements shows a disregard for the severity of the issues at hand, indicates a reactionary response to official narratives, and an openness to questioning the existence of discrimination and prejudice.

RECOMMENDATIONS

This report highlights the need for immediate action to address the concerns of young people, many of whom are struggling under pressure and fearful about a future in the wake of coronavirus. Many young people are already feeling unsettled, and some are looking for answers in mistrust, blame and political disengagement. These sentiments will be magnified in the postpandemic context unless urgent and decisive action is taken.


There is a clear need for a recovery plan to support young people through the COVID-19 pandemic, and the long-term consequences it will have.

  • While we welcome the Government’s proposed £2 billion Kickstart Scheme to create fully subsidised 6-month job placements for 16-24 year olds claiming Universal Credit, this is a drop in the ocean given projections1 of unemployment rising to 11.7%, or 4 million people. We need to see a longer-term recovery plan that comes with a realistic budget for the scale what is needed, to avoid large scale youth unemployment and invests in skills and training, accounts for a second or third wave of the virus, and fundamentally, that prioritises the interests of young people.
  • We call on the Government to develop this recovery plan in consultation across sectors but also with young people. This could take the form of young citizens’ panels run by central government in each region and nation.
  • This recovery plan not only needs to address the economic impact on young people’s employment and financial security, but also on their wellbeing and their ability to feel valued in society. The Government must offer more funding for pastoral care in schools and colleges, social care and youth services to account for their increased need.
  • The Government must also ensure they are providing funding support for the invaluable organisations working on the frontline, especially those supporting young people with mental health and wellbeing, many of whom are facing funding crises when they are needed most.

Young people need to be given a stake in deciding their own futures, so that their voices are heard, they feel represented, and political alienation among young people is reduced.

  • 16 and 17 year olds must be given the opportunity to influence key decisions that affect their lives by reducing the voting age to 16 for all public elections
  • Democratic education must become a compulsory part of the curriculum for schools to teach students how the government and local government works, how new laws are introduced and how they are able to be heard in these systems
  • Too many young people are still not on the electoral register, so the Government should do more to promote voter registration, including raising awareness that students can register at both their home and term-time addresses
  • All Political parties must do better to represent the needs of young people by listening to their views and creating more opportunities for real involvement in their structures. They should also consider developing a youth manifesto alongside their party manifestos

Young people should not be burdened with the consequences of a hard Brexit, which will only add to the challenges faced by young people starting their working lives in the wake of a pandemic.

  • It is critical that the Government do not push through a no-deal Brexit, or agree a hard Brexit deal that is detrimental for the UK’s economy. Young people will feel the brunt of the economic impact this has, a decision in which most never had a say. It is unquestionable for their future that negotiations prioritise sustaining and improving economic growth in the UK
  • Young people should be guaranteed the opportunities offered by the Erasmus+ programme so that young people are given the chance to travel and benefit from each other’s world-leading education systems

The paths that lead those feeling isolated or excluded towards hatred, conspiracy and mistrust must be blocked

  • Government policy around online harms must take the lead in challenging hatred, conspiracy and misinformation online and not simply defer to big social media companies. They are ultimately responsible for holding tech companies to account
  • Tech companies need to step up; not just to remove extreme content from their platforms but to place content moderation at the very heart of their operation. To shift from responding to reports of illegal or harmful content, often submitted by victims of such content, to actively seeking it out themselves. To improve staff literacy of issues relating to hate and prejudice (systemic and organised) and provide better support for their moderation teams, and to never promote extreme content or make it easy for users to find extreme or harmful content
  • Social media platforms must consistently monitor and change their algorithms to avoid the ‘recommendation’ of extreme or harmful content, and the Government must hold them to account. This is most pertinent for YouTube – where we find many young people ‘falling down the rabbit hole’ from gateway to extreme content
  • Social media companies should not only crackdown on hateful and extreme content, but ensure there are positive alternatives for young people seeking to fill a void, by promoting positive counter narratives and by ensuring that influencers are actively promoting these

More must be done to challenge racism and misogyny in schools, colleges and universities, and more broadly to address the overlay of make supremacy and white supremacy

  • We support calls for the long overdue addition of Black history to the curriculum, so that topics like migration and empire are an integral part of learning in schools and colleges, and teachers are supported to deliver this
  • The Department for Education must urgently make tackling sexism and sexual harassment in schools a policy priority. They must offer schools guidance, ensure that there is adequate support and teacher training so that staff are able to deliver this, and ensure that the curriculum for relationships and sex education, across all key stages, is designed to promote consent, positive relationships and prevent sexism and sexual harassment
  • Schools, colleges and universities must do more to address sexism and misogyny, taking a zero-tolerance approach to sexual harassment and adequately supporting staff to identify problematic behaviour and to adhere to these policies and procedures. They must ensure a survivor-centred approach so that young women are adequately supported
  • Policy makers must better understand how misogyny and racism intersect, as part of a wider pushback against an equality agenda and a furthering of white male supremacist power through frustrated entitlement. This includes ensuring greater support, including specialist services, for women of colour who are most likely to be on the receiving end of this hatred

Tackling the spread of conspiracy theory and misinformation entails more than just removing content, but addressing deeper causes which fuel the attraction

  • While preventing the spread of conspiracy theory and misinformation is an essential task, more is needed to stem their appeal. Conspiracy theory is in some ways a symptom as much as a cause of a cynical outlook on politics and society. Belief in conspiracy is a product of a cynical outlook on politics as well as enforcing the feeling that actions have little chance of affecting change. It is all a setup. These are issues that call for deep changes and require greater engagement and serious structural, political and financial commitment.
3

The Tribes

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Chapter 3: The Tribes

To better understand the attitudes of young people in Britain today, we have created a new segmentation model of seven groups, each containing people with a similar worldview. This helps us to understand how views on particular issues interact and overlap. This should not be interpreted on a left to right political axis, nor simply on the strength of people’s attitudes to particular subjects or issues.

Because young people are overall more socially liberal, we have several groups who hold progressive views, although hold these to different strengths and place value on different things. Aspirational liberals hold socially progressive views, but their focus is away from politics and more towards their own prospects.

Disengaged progressives share similar social views, but feel detached from the political system. Established liberals and leftist activists hold very strong progressive values, although the former embrace the political system whereas the latter reject mainstream politics and don’t trust the Government.

We find a relatively large apathetic section, who are largely indifferent around political issues and a more ambivalent group, the sceptical ambivalents, who have mixed views on social issues, but generally feel they are well represented by the political system.

Finally, the reactionary conservative group hold the most conservative views of all the tribes. Although their views on some social issues, such as immigration, is mixed, they are more likely to feel disenfranchised and reject political correctness and there is a proportion, although small, within this group who engage with racist conspiracies and far right ideologies.

Although these tribes are not constructed on demographic or socioeconomic indicators, there are some clear divides in how demographic and socioeconomic groups concentrate. Female respondents are over-represented in the more progressive groups, while male respondents are more heavily concentrated in the conservative leaning groups. Students and graduates are more likely to be in the progressive groups, while those in work are more likely to be in the conservative or apathetic groups. Those out of work are more likely to fall into the anti-establishment groups. BAME respondents are split across the groups, but African and Pakistani respondents are more likely to fall into the anti-establishment groups, while Indian, Eastern European and Bangladeshi respondents are more likely to fall into moderate groups.

Reactionary Conservatives

This group are the most politically right-wing of all the tribes, and are motivated to react to political correctness. Most do not hold particularly strong anti-immigrant views or feel that multiculturalism has undermined British culture. While some are rejectionist, most show apathy or soft support for these issues. However they are more likely to believe that ‘feminism has gone too far’, that discrimination against white people is a serious problem, or that you ‘can’t be proud of national identity without being racist’. They are far less likely than the other groups to think that making a joke based on someone’s race or religion is offensive, and between 15% to 30% of this group consume alternative right wing media or follow far-right figures.

This group is made up of more male than female respondents, and has a lower number of students overall. They are less likely to be graduates, and generally place less importance on education. They are more likely to be C2DE or from low income households and many are economically anxious.

Sceptical Ambivalents

This group are more likely to feel they are well represented by the political system, have active lives and are most confident about their own futures. They are most positive about Brexit and are least likely to attribute concerns about the future to the impact of Covid-19, but many feel pessimistic for the future and disappointed with their lives so far.

This group tend to hold stronger views on social issues, but these views are often contradictory. While this group contains some religious conservatives as well as some with more right wing views, which may explain their relative lack of support for gay couples to adopt children and scepticism around feminism, they are more liberal when given real-life situations, such as feeling comfortable if someone asked them to use gender neutral pronouns such as ‘they’. Many in this group believe conspiracy theories, and they are more likely than the overall sample to look for alternative media sources.

This group are more male, less likely to be students, and more likely to be older and in work. A higher proportion are religious.

Apathetics

As the name would suggest, this tribe are most indifferent about key political and social issues. They are more optimistic and happy with their lives, and have softly socially liberal views, but tend to keep these to themselves. They are conformists, and are least likely to support all forms of political action, including voting, reflecting their disenchantment with the political system. This group is slightly more male, slightly more likely to be in work than studying, and most do not disclose their income.

Aspirational liberals

This group hold progressive views on a range of political and social issues, but their focus is away from politics and more on their own prospects. They are economically anxious, and are most concerned about a lack of decent work or failing to achieve in the education system. Although their values are far more progressive than the national average, they are typical of their generation and are generally more apathetic about political action. The group is non-religious, slightly more female than male, is slightly younger, contains a higher number of students and unemployed people, and has a slightly smaller BAME population.

Disengaged progressives

This group hold strongly progressive views on social issues like LGBT+ rights, immigration and multiculturalism, but are not politically motivated in the same way as the established liberals or leftist activists, though they spend most time on social media. They are most likely to reject the political system, and more than three quarters of this tribe think that voting is pointless because politicians will always ignore the views of people like them. They are most likely to feel under pressure in their day-to-day lives and to feel more judged on how they look than how they act. This also reflects their demographic make up, as more female and younger. This group are most concerned about the impact of coronavirus on their future Their disengagement with the political system might explain their more conservative views on issues like taxation and prison reform than other liberal groups, and that they are more likely to believe conspiracy theories, though they mostly reject those rooted in racism.

Established liberals

This group hold strongly progressive social attitudes and feel most confident about finding change within existing structures. They are most likely to see the importance of voting, support non-violent protest, and have a higher degree of trust in the political system than most, although they do not feel that political debate currently reflects the interests of young people. They oppose Brexit and worry about the impact of coronavirus in the long term, and are most likely to watch the news. A young group with a high proportion of students, they value education, and most are confident and comfortable in their own lives. They are generally trusting of authority figures and value their relationships with family and friends. This tribe are more mixed in terms of gender than the other groups, are slightly younger, and are more likely to be in social grades ABC1.

Leftist activists

This group hold the most progressive social attitudes of all the tribes, have strong values of community and compassion, strongly oppose inequality and are vocal in calling out racism, sexism but don’t trust the political system to achieve their aims.

They neither trust, nor like the government, and many feel pessimistic for the future, concerned about the impact of coronavirus and Brexit on their opportunities in life. They are most likely to feel that politicians don’t care what young people think and are angry at older generations for making political decisions like voting for Brexit that their generation will have to live with. They see poverty and climate change as the biggest issues facing the country, greater concerns for this tribe than the economy, and they are most to see mental health as a problem they face personally.

This group are mostly female and the majority are students. They are least likely to be religious. They spend more time on Twitter than Facebook and are most likely to report having seen or experienced racism on social media, violence or threats of violence and sexual harassment.

4

This generation carries not just their own hopes, but those of their families and communities

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Chapter 4: This generation carries not just their own hopes, but those of their families and communities

Our country’s diverse next generation of young people is brimming with talent, commitment and a desire to shape the world around them. As this report captures, they want opportunities to demonstrate what they can do, but are conflicted on whether to be optimistic or very pessimistic about whether they’ll get them.

This research highlights many of the issues the young working class people at RECLAIM sessions talk to us about. We should be deeply worried that half of young people don’t expect to be in a good job and have somewhere decent to live in 5 years time and that a similar proportion are really struggling with their mental health right now.

We should be especially concerned that a minority of young people are finding themselves seduced by the racist conspiracy theories they’re exposed to on social media platforms that urgently need regulating.

This generation of young people carries not just their own hopes but those of their families and communities. If we fail to meet the hard work of those leaving school, college and university halfway by providing better opportunities, support and routes to being heard, we risk seeing many more people losing faith in our politics and economy.

Young people – especially those marginalised by their class background, race, religion, disability, sexuality or other factor – will need a wide range of reforms to deal with the impact of COVID-19. There’s no one right answer, but there is one way that guarantees we always get better answers: by asking young people what they think. It’s great to see this work from HOPE not hate charitable trust doing just that.

5

In the 2020s, young workers must not pay the price of the pandemic

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Chapter 5: In the 2020s, young workers must not pay the price of the pandemic

Joining the jobs market in the middle of a pandemic could be seen as a piece of random bad luck. But if ministers sit on their hands, it could cause massive harm to young people’s life chances. And young people know it: HOPE not hate charitable trust’s research shows more than half think coronavirus will cause huge long-term disruption to their future prospects.

The immediate danger is unemployment. As in any recession, young workers just starting out in their careers are most vulnerable to job cuts. Workers aged 25 and under are three times more likely to work in either hospitality or arts and recreation – the two sectors where jobs are at greatest risk.

For all age groups, unemployment goes hand in hand with debt, poverty, ill-health and homelessness. But for young people, its effects can last a lifetime. More than six months’ unemployment early on holds down workers’ earnings throughout their lives. By their forties, those who experienced youth unemployment earn up to 21 per cent less. Thirty-five years later, those who were unemployed as young people are less happy.

Without decisive action, today’s young workers will see their hopes and dreams unfulfilled as their talents go unused. No wonder then that three-quarters of young workers support the government funding jobs paid at the living wage to people under 25 facing long-term unemployment. In July, the government announced the Kickstart scheme, to give 300,000 young workers guaranteed jobs. It’s a good start, but the government needs to make sure these will be good quality jobs with training built in. They must not replace work previously done by permanent staff, and must be of real value to the community. Crucially, employers should top up wages to at least the real Living Wage.

And the government must do far more to support those sectors hit hardest by the pandemic – starting with retail, hospitality, arts and leisure, where many young workers work. This should include a targeted extension of the job retention scheme beyond October. It’s been decades since the UK experienced mass youth unemployment. The 1980s showed the consequences of throwing young people onto a threadbare safety net. In the 2020s, young workers must not pay the price of the pandemic.

6

The view from the classroom

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Chapter 6: The view from the classroom

HOPE not hate Charitable Trust’s Education Team delivers lessons that explore the causes and consequences of prejudice and discrimination in schools.

We cover a wide range of ages, from eight through to 22-year-olds, although the bulk of our audience is teenagers. We also travel the length and breadth of the country, from extremely rural parts in the east to urban cities in the north, from underperforming schools in deprived areas through to elite grammar schools.

This gives our educators an extremely good snapshot of the attitudes within modern British classrooms.

When we first started the Education Unit in 2016 we expected to have to deal with a lot of racial prejudice unearthed during our sessions, and so trained our team accordingly. However, what we found was a slightly different challenge – that of widespread and heavily normalised misogyny.

Around a year ago at a school near Thetford, I was preparing in the school hall. As the pupils began filing in and taking their seats, I saw a small group of boys hound a teacher for “hating men”. She had her back against the wall with five or six male year twelve pupils (aged 16-17) pointing in her face, saying that she was “sexist” toward men.

The teacher, and myself, were rather bemused as to why she was being accused of this, so the students explained: in a previous lesson she’d told the class that she believed in gender equality and would consider herself to be a feminist.

They explained to her that feminists hate men, want to oppress men and it was appalling that the school would allow “someone like her” to teach. Other teachers were in the room, but nothing was done. The interaction went completely unchallenged.

A week or so passed by and I found myself in a leafy part of north London delivering a session on stereotypes. The class was set the challenge of discussing the origins of traditional gender attributes, boys like cars, girls like pink, and so on.

A female pupil raised her hand to inform me that she felt that some of these low-level stereotypes could have a detrimental effect on women, as they grow up forming gender roles of men being providers and women expected to stay at home. This was exactly what we wanted to hear from the students.

Nonetheless, my glow in response, thinking that the pupils understood that this was a lesson with broader meanings for social justice rather than just a psychology lesson, was short lived. While she was offering her analysis, a boy at the front shouted out that she was a “Feminazi”. No one, including the teacher in the room, batted an eyelid at this interruption.

My next booking was two days later at a school in Lincolnshire, when I changed my usual introduction exercise and instead asked each class if they thought sexism exists today. In each class, of mixed sex, around 90% said they thought that sexism was a thing of the past, not something that happens today. I could retell many more examples like these from Kent, Cheshire, Cumbria, Redcar…

In response, our work in the classroom has put more emphasis on gender equality, and it is easily the hardest subject that we have to teach. All too often, pupils dismiss any suggestion that sexism is a real problem today, and we are aggressively put down by largely, but not exclusively, male students. Suggestions that women have fewer opportunities than men, or that aspects of male culture can have a detrimental impact on women and girls is often interpreted as a personal attack on the males in the room.

Sexism in the classroom is nothing new. However, what we are now witnessing is an aggressive backlash from male students, who not only deny the issue, but try to silence any notion of female empowerment or critique of male culture. To use Fernand Braudel’s longue durée, these instances are just the small short-term bubbles on top of a wave and we should be looking at what factors are driving the underlying current beneath.

We have a great opportunity to learn from the racial equality movement on how we might have popped a few bubbles – children know it is wrong to use language charged with racial hatred – but as the Black Lives Matter campaign has highlighted, that current beneath the wave is still very strong and causing untold problems within communities.

Everyday misogyny is not only at large within schools, it is normalised. It’s not just boys proudly talking about “bros before hoes” but talking about women in the most explicit sexual terms, and this language is brazen. And this goes unchallenged, not just in front of female pupils but within clear earshot of teachers. When we have seen this behaviour challenged, all too often we see boys shrug off concerns with giggles and eye rolling.

7

We must challenge those who push a zero sum idea about power and equality

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Chapter 7: We must challenge those who push a zero sum idea about power and equality

Many of the findings in this report are deeply worrying. Most of all, the clear overlap between young men with racist attitudes and sexist/misogynistic views. It is so deeply sad after decades of anti-racist and feminist activism, and social and political change, that a significant proportion of young white men feel they have had something taken away from them – that women and ethnic minorities gaining more freedom and equality must mean they lose out.

These changes don’t have to be perceived or experienced this way. HOPE not hate charitable trust’s analysis that online misogyny and men’s rights are working as a “slip road” to the far right is chilling but totally credible – racists have always resorted to traditional ideas about masculinity and order as their vision and rallying call.

There are findings that are very welcome in this research too, including more progressive views on LGBT rights, and a large majority rejection of many racist ideas, sexist ideas and sexual harassment by the majority of young people. This gives hope, because these are the likely influencers, in time, of their discontented peers.

We should challenge those who push this zero-sum idea about power and equality head on, because when this sense of frustrated entitlement to supremacy is not tackled it can cause real harm in real life, with women of colour most likely to be on the receiving end.

We need Government policy around online harms to seriously step up and stop deferring to the big media companies; and we need those companies themselves to put their policies where their progressive-looking brand values are and take concerted action on hate on their platforms.

We urge all those influencers with strong followings among young people, and frontline professionals working with young people, to make naming and tackling these views a central part of their mission.

8

As young people, we are facing numerous threats to our future

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Chapter 8: As young people, we are facing numerous threats to our future

This is a very timely report that can help us to further understand the views of young people across the UK. As young people, we are facing numerous threats to our future, with a climate emergency already taking the lives and livelihoods of our siblings in the global South and threatening to destroy all of our lives, Brexit continues to legitimate the scapegoating of Black, brown, and migrant communities and seeks to further the destruction of the hostile environment, and – on the horizon – an impending recession that will leave many of us unemployed. 

Once again, we have been let down by our political leaders throughout this pandemic and so it is not surprising that many are pessimistic about how coronavirus will affect their future. Students have been particularly hard hit with many losing employment, being forced to pay for accommodation that they no longer need and not receiving the quality education they require. Looking ahead, young people continue to inherit a system where universities are run as businesses, not education providers, prioritising the huge salaries of Vice Chancellors, whilst students and workers struggle to make ends meet. In the here and now, the government must act and introduce a student safety net to protect all students but we must also see an end to the failed project of marketisation.

It should be deeply troubling that most young people feel disconnected from the political system and feel that those in power do not care to represent them. Our political system is built on representation, yet it is clearly not working if the views of young people are not being heard. Politicians, of all stripes, must do more to reach out to young people and ensure that they are being listened to and incorporated into the decision-making process.

We must recognise that our society and our institutions are a product of racism, anti-Blackness and white supremacy. The fact this report shows that young people are accessing extreme content online, think political violence is acceptable and are more likely to believe conspiracy theory rooted in racism, anti-immigration rhetoric, antisemitism and Islamophobia should act as a wake-up call. We need action now to uproot the injustices around us and rebuild our society, free from the historical systems of oppression on which it is currently stands.

Larissa Kennedy is president of the National Union of Students

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