With much of the public's attention now focused firmly on the election campaign, there is no doubt that political parties will be focusing their resources on those most likely to vote, a grouping disproportionately dominated by older people. At the other end of the spectrum, as well as being less likely to vote there is a danger that younger generations are falling behind in other forms of social engagement. Action needs to be taken to get young people to become active citizens at an early age.
It perhaps isn't surprising that research carried out by the Charities Aid Foundation (CAF) published this week has shown that young people are less likely than other groups to donate to charity - after all, they typically have less disposable income and therefore are not able to match the financial contributions of older generations. Much more worrying is the finding that younger audiences are also less likely to be involved with other types of support for charities and social action - such as volunteering and campaigning. Nearly three fifths (58%) of 16 - 24 year-olds do nothing for any cause in a typical month.
Evidence shows the importance of getting young people to get involved with all types of giving at an early age, as this is likely to kick-start a lifetime of supporting good causes and give them the impetus to develop a personal commitment to helping others. It is also clear that most young people are incredibly keen to donate and volunteer their time to make a difference, and both young people and teachers agree that this generation of young people is at least as socially minded as those who have gone beforehand.
Where many young people struggle is finding the information and opportunity to turn that enthusiasm into action. Rather than unleashing a generation of givers, at present too much of that interest and excitement is fizzling out. To address this problem, charities and government need to work hand-in-hand to teach younger people about the role of charities in society and instil a culture of giving, volunteering and social action in future generations.
To seek the answers we brought together politicians from the Conservatives, Labour and Liberal Democrats - the Growing Giving inquiry, chaired by former Home Secretary David Blunkett, which investigated the ways that people of different ages support charities. One of the main focuses of the Inquiry was to make sure that young people are given the chance to get involved with giving. The inquiry found that there was plenty government, charities and business could do, even in this age of austerity.
Schools and charities should work together to give children and young people opportunities to get involved with the work of charities, and make charities an integral part of careers advice and citizenship.
Charities should get more young people involved in leadership roles, such as on their trustee boards.
And the university entrance system should be reformed to promote the benefits of social action so that young people who give their time are given a platform to showcase the skills they get from voluntary work.
Taken together, these relatively simple measures would provide younger generations with a more detailed understanding of the role charities play in society. And young people would find new ways to use their skills to support the charities that so many people in the UK depend upon. Finally, creating a tangible way for those who give their time and money generously to be recognised would serve as a great incentive for getting more people involved with giving.
There are reasons to be positive too. Digital donations and interaction through technology are on the rise, which should help provide younger audiences with ways to provide support through means that are compatible with their everyday lifestyle. At present younger generations are actually the group most likely to give by cash, so work remains to be done to allow new donors to use their smart phones for smart giving. But technological reform alone alone isn't enough, and a broader culture change is needed if our country is to reap the rewards of the generosity of young people and help them to turn their attitudes into action. Enacting the measures proposed above would be a solid first step on this exciting journey.