I have been thinking about the neglected young people of this generation for a while, it was sparked by a conversation over a glass of red a few weeks ago, about the angry music we listened to when we were teenagers. Tracks like Sham 69 If the Kids are United and the Specials Ghost Town were two I particularly remembered and struck strong chords with me. I find myself asking where are the angry songs in the current charts? with lyrics like:
This town is coming like a ghost town
Why must the youth fight against themselves?
Government leaving the youth on the shelf
This place is coming like a ghost town
No job to be found in this country
Can’t go on no more
I recently had to write a paper about the outward migration of young people from the Outer Hebrides and there were a few things which came out :
There is outward migration of young people from the Outer Hebrides (1) most leaving in their late teens to early twenties as they move into higher education or employment (2). It is shown by the percentage of young people living here ages 15-29; 16% compared with the Scottish average of 20% (3).
From the research I read there are various things which affect the young people and cause them to leave:
Young people feel they need to leave to get a better education and they presume higher education will lead to better paid graduate employment (1). They perceive what is available in the Highlands and Islands is not the same quality as in urban universities. The University of the Highlands and Islands (UHI) could be part of the solution offering degrees without leaving the area but they need to bridge a perception gap with the young people; to improve their academic reputation of teaching and research specialisms (3) and that their degrees lead to better quality employment (1).
Jamieson and Groves (1) highlight employment as a reason for leaving, anecdotally my eldest daughter says ‘she will have to leave to get a good job’. The creation of employment opportunities, diversity and a career progression are vital in making the Highlands and Islands a more attractive place to live (1). For this to happen young people need to feel there is something worth staying for?
It is always difficult bringing businesses of scale to peripheral areas because of; transport costs, housing, connectivity, workforce retention. There are examples of success; BASF Pharma on Lewis produce high quality products using a highly skilled graduate workforce.
But I would suggest policy makers need to study why successful models work and unsuccessful ones don’t work then use the lessons to drive policy decisions. There appears to be a consistent lack of learning from failure.
There should be development of micro-financing to allow young people to explore self-employment, with a recognition by the funders there will be a failure rate and this is not only acceptable but a good thing.
Within the environment there are four factors young people note as important: housing, connectivity, transport and cultural or community activities (1).
Jamieson and Groves (1) found the lack of affordable housing an important driver of youth migration, added to the expensive rental market and a shortage of peer group to share accommodation. (In an urban environment peer group sharing is a more viable option as a starting point to independence.) There is also a gender issue highlighted by Jones (4) where there is pay differential between what a young man can earn compared to a young woman and the subsequently their ability to purchase their own home.
The rate of building affordable housing is set at a national level and administered locally (3). Local authorities have the ability to vary the rate of council tax on second homes and long term unoccupied houses (5). If policy was changed councils could make second home ownership more punitive this could create a release of houses onto the market, driving prices down to a realistic level for young people. Should there be development of more schemes like the Highland Council’s Local Authority Mortgage Guarantee Scheme (3) making it easier for young people enter the housing market or would this unnaturally push up prices?
HIE found ‘connectivity is crucial in supporting new research and development in digital health, remote education, delivery of public services and helping maximise growth in key sectors.‘ (3). Lack of connectivity leads to the lack of graduate employment and fewer higher educational opportunities.
HIE are investing £124.6 million into Digital Highlands and Islands, aiming to improve connectivity using fibre optics (3). If this aim is met there should be increased educational opportunities and an increase in the high skilled employment, is it enough investment? And could it cause difficulties for existing businesses such as shops as they compete in a global market or will it create opportunities?
Transport and Cultural or Community Activities:
A lack of public transport for young people leads to discontentment with not being able to have a social life and particularly for young women not being able to easily visit friends or participate in cultural and community activities (1).
Local transport policy is being affected by budget cuts, should thought be given to consulting young people to ensure further reduction of service accommodates their needs. Western Isles Council have tried to redesign public transport in Uist and Barra by consulting the community (CnES, 2016), what was the percentage of young people who were consulted in the process?
Jamieson and Groves (1) found young women are more likely to participate in cultural and community activities particularly talking about a lack of shops and transport. With increasing use of the internet to shop the economic viability of shops catering for young people becomes increasingly fragile.
HIE have invested in cultural initiatives such as the Fèisean and Crofting Connections aimed at retaining and attracting young people to the area (3). This is would benefit from robust research and evaluation on the return on the investment.
A major difficulty is the wickedness of the problem (6), a problem difficult or impossible to solve the information to solve it is incomplete, contradictory, and changing. If you look at the problem from a planning and policy position the start point should be detailed independent study of the niche young people would like and how to create this.
It needs meaningful consultation with the young people to discover what they believe will be the factors not affecting them but the next cohort of young people. Policy makers should be asking the young people who are leaving now and the ones planning to leave in the next few years ‘what are the young people just being born going to need so they can choose to stay if they want to?‘
Look at the YouGov figures from the Brexit referendum and in the 18-24 age group 71% voted to stay and in 50-64 age group 60% voted to leave. The average age of an Member of Parliment is 51. I wonder what the average age of a councillor on Western Isles Council (Comhairle nan Eilean Siar) is?
I question if the older ‘ruling’ generation are willing, equipped, able to understand, value or act on things the young people might say?
Perhaps we need some angry young people listening to the words of Sham 69:
Freedom is given
Speak how you feel
I have no freedom
How do you feel
They can lie to my face
But not to my heart
If we all stand together
It will just be the start
(1) Jamieson, L. and Groves, L (2008) Drivers of Youth Out-Migration from Rural Scotland. Key issues and annotated bibliography. Scottish Government Social Research. Edinburgh
(2) Ellis, T, (Registrar General), (2104) Scotland’s People The Registrar Generals Annual Review of Demographic Trends. National Records of Scotland. Edinburgh
(3) Highland and Islands Enterprise (HIE). (2015) Our Next Generation, Young people and the Highlands and Islands: Attitudes and aspirations Available at: http://www.hie.co.uk/regional-information/economic-reports-and-research/archive/young-people-and-the-highlands-and-islands–attitudes-and-aspirations-research.html
(4) Jones, G. (2001) ‘Fitting Homes? Young People’s Housing and Household Strategies in Rural Scotland’. Journal of Youth Studies, 4(1), 41-62
(5) Scottish Government (2015) Scotland’s Economic Strategy. Edinburgh www.gov.scot/economicstrategy
(6) Camillus, J,C. ‘Strategy as a Wicked Problem‘, (2008) Harvard Business Review, 86, 5, pp. 98-106