Working-class young people living outside of London have been overlooked in Brexit conversations. Empowering them could help shape the ‘new’ Britain, says youth charity worker Roxy Legane
The future remains unclear for the UK following the EU referendum, and the nation’s social, political and cultural divisions are now more obvious than ever. But with change comes opportunity, and Brexit could be the ideal catalyst for a new wave of positive social action.
One of the biggest divides laid bare by the referendum result was between the north and south of the country: a disconnect groups such as RECLAIM, the Manchester-based youth leadership charity I work for, have long highlighted.
While London’s communities seem to be more united, with even some calls for independence, many working-class communities outside the capital have different experiences and are often left unheard – feelings not isolated to an individual’s voting choice to leave the EU, but also stemming from a discontent with the establishment.
With change comes opportunity, and we must use Brexit to move forward with positive social action
However, the decision to leave the EU has been made and now is not the time for blame or divisive celebration. It’s time to look at our country and assess the disparities. It’s time for those in power to acknowledge those on the periphery, whose voices can be a positive light in an uncertain future. Namely working-class, northern, young people who have a refreshing take on leadership and who come with a wealth of different experiences and challenges to help us call our leadership truly representative.
At RECLAIM, we work with young people from many of the regions that voted for Brexit, who see that the people they recognise as neighbours and friends have been locked out of discussions for too long. It is time to take these young people seriously as politically engaged, socially aware individuals – not strangers up north who are only considered during elections, when leaders set foot on their battle buses.
Young people are aware when they’re being used for political gain, but what overwhelms this is their feeling of being ignored. As Charlie, 15, from Bolton says: “You never see political leaders in our areas. They’re always somewhere posh.” Alienation leads to disillusionment and when left unchecked, even to radicalisation. It’s time to change.
I’ve spoken to many young people following the referendum who were frustrated and worried, but many also showed an appetite for change. As 16-year-old Samuel from Manchester told me: “It’s time to spread positivity and hope”. We need to hear them, to support those that don’t yet have a vote, but who will face the future consequences of our actions.
It’s time for those in power to acknowledge those on the periphery, whose voices can be a positive light in an uncertain future
Practically, there are many simple but often unconsidered ways to engage working-class young people. Any broadcasters reading? Every Thursday, I sit down to Question Time. The show travels the UK in an effort to have a diverse range of people voice their questions to those we deem to have the answers. Why are there, in general, no young people in the audience? Better yet, why are there no young panellists? Are their opinions not valid? Are they not experts in their field for those they represent? I don’t know about you, but I’d rather watch a panel of engaged young people discuss the future rather than the standard middle-aged, middle-class, white men in suits. Young people: campaign for your place on these platforms.
Older generations: engage authentically with young people through conversation. Set high expectations and have challenging discussions. Value young people’s voices and, better yet, their honesty. Don’t be scared to enter into a debate that will challenge you. Many young people did not make their journey to the polls on 23 June. We must acknowledge our responsibility for this turnout.
To leaders reading: invite young people whose backgrounds differ from yours into the conversation. On too many occasions we watch events in London go by, with other young people attending, while we question the whereabouts of the working-class invite.
Together, we can ensure the north’s young working-class voice is amplified.
Roxy Legane is the Powerhouse Programme lead at RECLAIM, a Manchester-based charity that supports working class young people to drive social and leadership equality.