Lots of people, young and old, view politics as old-fashioned, not for them and elite. But political decisions impact every single aspect of each of our lives and there are hundreds of thousands of employment opportunities in roles that inform and influence these decisions. These roles are rewarding and you have the chance to make a meaningful contribution to society and to our planet.
Yet these roles, like many, lack diversity – whether it’s the people working in Parliament, government departments, in elected roles or in public affairs teams (specialists in lobbying the government) - there are more men than women in senior roles, a greater proportion of white people than within the UK’s population, and patchy information on socioeconomic status, the LGBTQ+ community and the prevalence of people with disabilities.
These are the roles where a variety of real-life experience is crucial, yet they are roles with a high-level of intellectual snobbery (a Masters degree for an entry-level role is a far from unusual requirement, or complex verbal and numerical reasoning tests must be passed to get to interview). There is also a tendency to recruit from the same pools of candidates, year-after-year, resulting in lots of people with similar life experiences informing public policy decisions that affect us all. Yet it is crucial that we understand the implications of these decisions for different segments of the population so that inequalities are not exacerbated.
My background is in public policy and public affairs, and I now take the skills of this profession into the classroom to equip young people with the tools and confidence (and enthusiasm) to engage with the political sphere.
By working in public affairs, you quickly realise that everyone is exposed to political risk – each and every day. Political decisions and discourse shape how we think, how we behave, our education, employment, financial security and health, and they shape how we engage with the individuals and institutions that make decisions that affect our lives. The Pandemic has shown us just how much influence political decisions have over every single aspect of our lives in a way that I have not experienced previously in my lifetime. I hope that one of the ways that we ‘build back better’ is to ensure that we harness this renewed political awareness to increase the UK’s political literacy and demonstrate that doing so is a worthwhile endeavour.
Providing young people with an understanding of how the UK’s democratic processes work and how they can meaningfully engage with those processes as a citizen extends well beyond preparing them to become voters (though that is important). A politically literate population will lead to policy decisions that are more robust and representative on every issue imaginable, from social care to climate change to taxation. One thing we see time and time again with the young people we work with is that as they learn more about what is happening in Parliament and across government departments, the less they view politics as being ‘them versus us’ and instead start to consider their role as citizens within our social and political structures. It also encourages them to explore the hundreds of thousands of job opportunities in a world of work that needs to diversify.
There are many facets of political literacy and participation, and young people engage in political discourse in new, often technology driven ways. To understand what young people want to learn about politics we’re working with a group of students who are surveying their peers.
It would be amazing if you could share their survey with your student body and in return we’ll share the results of the survey, plus a supporting lesson plan, with you.
If you’d like to see the discussion paper that led to this research, featuring contributions from a number of former MPs, a think tank, a professional body and students please follow this link.