A major new report by Demos think tank for the British Council’s Next Generation research series shows Britain’s young adults feel overburdened by responsibilities, and facing a multitude of barriers to getting ahead. The research reveals that only half of young Britons feel that they live in a socially mobile society.

Focus groups Demos conducted for the project showed young people frustrated with what they perceive to be an education system too doggedly focused on examinations and academic routes at the expense of life skills, such as managing education around living independently, money management, healthy eating, mental health and relationships.

Britain’s youth are split down the middle between those who feel they’ve been supported by the education system and adequately prepared for the world of work (49 per cent vs 46 per cent) and adulthood more broadly (44 per cent vs 50 per cent).

The UK’s decision to leave the European Union is also seen as a direct challenge to young Britons’ outlook and ambitions, with 41 per cent of young people believing that Brexit will pull people living in the UK apart, and the same percentage believing Brexit will reduce Britain’s influence in the world. Only 28 per cent feel Britain is heading in the right direction. Many participants in the focus groups across the UK that Demos conducted for the research were worried about the impacts Brexit would have on their lives, prospects, and future plans, including limiting their opportunities to work and study in other countries. 

 The survey also found that there is substantial appetite amongst young adults for broadening horizons and working in different places over the course of their careers: in either another region of the UK, an EU country or country outside Europe. Although the research finds significant socio-economic disparities persist, with almost a quarter of young people having not participated in any international experiences whatsoever. 

Young Britons also feel a lack of affordable housing, a constrained jobs market and poor pay conditions are the biggest issues facing their generation.

Encouragingly, the research found many ambitious voices in the younger generation, ready to embrace the opportunities of change; for example, 54 per cent believe that technology is improving workplaces for the better.

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Based on these findings, the report suggests:

  • The Government should provide clear assurances during the Brexit negotiation period on protecting and securing opportunities for young adults travelling, working, and studying abroad.
  • Employers, careers advisers, education providers, and civil society organisations should commit to a culture of lifelong international engagement, widening the scope of international work and study partnerships.
  • The Government should review how the changing labour market may be increasing the vulnerabilities of young adults to exploitation, championing ethical routes into work and positive career pathways for young adults.
  • Professionals working in the education system should ensure that building the resilience of young people – social, emotional, and financial – is embedded at all levels.

The report’s author, Head of Social Policy at Demos, Mr Ian Wybron said: : “As the UK enters an unprecedented period of uncertainty, it’s vital that the issues important to young people are taken seriously. Our research confirms that many young adults feel frustrated with an education system and labour market that doesn’t work for them – and the young advisors behind this project urge the Government to take steps to redress inequality in opportunity. Our research is also clear, in light of the UK's momentous decision to leave the EU, that concerns over Brexit at the forefront of many young adults’ thinking. Young adults want reassurances that the Government will work to maintain and grow opportunities for young people to connect abroad, and not just for the usual suspects who do so already.”

Professor Jo Beall, Director of Education and Society, British Council, said: “More young UK adults need to experience the benefits of global connections and international experience – this is more important than ever as the UK prepares to leave the EU. It’s crucial to preserve the benefits of international opportunities in uncertain times, and to take seriously the appetite young people have to live and work abroad, to enhance job prospects and life skills. ”

About Next Generation Research Series: A global research series that aims to understand how young people are affected by and are responding to social, political and economic changes worldwide. It gauges their views around education, employment and lifestyle, as well as uncovering their hopes and fears for their country, their degree of international engagement and views on the wider world, and the values and beliefs that affect their lives.

About Demos: Britain’s leading cross-party think-tank: an independent, educational charity, which produces original and innovative research.
About The British Council: The British Council is the UK’s international organisation for cultural relations and educational opportunities. We create friendly knowledge and understanding between the people of the UK and other countries. We do this by making a positive contribution to the UK and the countries we work with – changing lives by creating opportunities, building connections and engendering trust.
Methodological Note: Research for this project comprised multiple qualitative methods, including: a nationally representative survey conducted by Ipsos Mori online among a representative quota sample of 1,994 adults aged 18-30 across the United Kingdom, with fieldwork conducted between 25th January 2017 and 7th February 2017.; focus groups with young adults in locations across the UK (n=80); innovative analysis of young adults’ use of social media (n=200); and a policy roundtable with key stakeholders focused on youth engagement. In addition to this, two workshops were held with a Next Generation UK Advisory Board of 15 young adults who have steered the project for its duration and helped develop recommendations.

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