For over 50 years, the National Children’s Bureau has strived to ensure that the voices of children are heard and acted upon in decisions that affect them, their communities and their country. Starting work in 1963, the organisation has seen generations of children grow and develop through childhood and adolescence and into adulthood. Many of the challenges facing these children and their families have remained the same over the half century – coping with poverty and disadvantage, facing experiences of physical, sexual and emotional abuse, or adapting to changing expectations in education and employment. However, each generation will experience childhood in the context of unique social and economic conditions, and will be able to shed new light on what it is really like to grow up ‘today’.
For this reason, it is so important that we regularly take stock of what children and young people tell us matters to them and their peers. This research, by NCB and Ipsos MORI, is the first to give us a broad understanding of the views, concerns and values of Generation Next – today’s children and young people born at the turn of the Millennium.
These 11 to 16 year-olds, growing up in the context of significant economic challenges and with the proliferation of new technology, share some of the concerns of their parents’ generation. Across the generations, crime, activities for young people and street cleanliness are identified as local priorities. However, they have their own challenges too. They are anxious about getting good grades and a job when they leave school, about their appearance and about their parents working too hard. Many believe it will be harder for them to buy a house or get a job than it was for their parents. In fact, only a minority of Generation Next think life will be better for them than it was for their parents.
At the same time we see real hope for a future society led by these children. The majority believe that gender and ethnicity does not pose a barrier to getting a good job, and hopefully they will hold to that belief as future employers and employees. Nevertheless, many still think getting a well-paid job will be easier for those with a rich family or who went to private school.
Many children and young people believe 16 and 17 year-olds should have the opportunity to vote. However, the research shows that the majority are undecided about their political allegiances. It may be that we are moving away from a political culture dominated by party loyalty and identity politics, and towards a more independent culture in which individual issues matter more than party allegiance. These children and young people have much to tell those who lead this country. Like adults, they want to see health services and education at the top of the national agenda. All political parties and those with influence should take heed.
These are the future voters – many will vote in the 2020 election and some of their Scottish peers will vote in this year’s referendum. Politicians across the political spectrum should make the 2015 General Election and the next five year term of government the one where Generation Next is heard and valued.