In her ongoing series of interviews with activists for young people, Lewisham youth worker Melissa Jane Knight talks to Ayesha Carmouche (pictured right), Campaigns Co-ordinator and Communications Officer for Independent Academic Research Studies (IARS)
MJK: Can you tell us a bit more about IARS and what your role is?
AC: Independent Academic Research Studies (IARS) is a leading social policy think tank which brings together research and community action on topics of youth empowerment, youth criminal justice, and refugee and asylum-seeking issues. IARS break down the barriers between communities, academics and policy-makers. They galvanise research and amplify the voices of people with first-hand experience of economic and social hardship. Who best can tell us about youth exclusion than those who live through that reality – this is our mantra.
As the Campaigns Co-ordinator for a youth-led digital participation, I am in the very lucky position to spearhead one of our youth empowerment projects. This project is called the 99% Campaign, and the aim is to connect young individuals across the UK through the power of technology. I co-ordinate an online blogging platform which harnesses the views of 16–25 year olds. We have a team of campaigners who then pinpoint the main issues which have been expressed and this is fed back to policy-makers and other youth organisations.
What made you want to get involved?
I am a postgraduate by training and an activist by heart. A dramatic statement I admit, but I say this with a growing frustration that education and campaigning seem worlds apart. As a Social Policy graduate, I learnt a lot about the absence of opportunities for young people, the rise of joblessness, homelessness and high crime within this group. Yet I was never given the skills to challenge this – only a feeling of disappointment and powerlessness towards the status quo.
When I came across the 99% Campaign, I found my calling. I could use my knowledge to advocate for the empowerment of young people; to anchor and thrust the views of young people in the eyes of others. The main selling point of the campaign was that it did not exclude British youth by talking about the plight of their struggles whilst sitting in an office, nibbling over hobnobs. The 99% Campaign capitalises on the very tools young people use – blogging and social media – to engage with young people on their level. The language of policy is obliterated, and on our blogging platform you will find young people talking about what matters to them, whether that be lowering the voting age, teen violence or youth unemployment. With a steady increase in readerships, it is a tried and tested success!
Why should young people be interested in policy?
Why should young people be interested in policy? The question is why shouldn’t they be? Policy is not just for politicians, or for the middle-aged citizen who assumes she/he has more of a stake in our society. Whatever your opinion is of raising tuition fees or cuts to Education Maintenance Allowance, it is a fair to say that funding cuts are easier to apply to a group which is less politically vocal. With more than 950,000 young people unemployed and a meagre 44% making up the voting population, we are at risk of becoming completely isolated from mainstream society. This is why we should care about policy.
The 99% Campaign considers issues affecting young people, for example issues like youth unemployment and access to education. What recommendations would the group give to government on these issues?
Well, one policy would be to set up a government grant scheme which works with colleges and universities to give young people the opportunities to gain work experience at an organisation. Individuals could be given college/university credit for taking up job placements. This would give them a flavour of working life and give them the “hard skills” needed to enter the job market after graduation.
Do you feel young people need a voice?
Young people need a voice more than ever. They are vocal but they are not using the ballot box to make their voices heard. Instead, you will find them kicking about their unions, chatting on Facebook, sharing content on Twitter and Instagram. Maybe the most important thing then is to connect these places to centres of power. Many people have a lot to say, but they just don’t know how or where to say it.
We’ve had comments under IF blogs recommending to let young people enjoy being young and to purposely leave them out of politics. What do you think?
True, it is important to enjoy your life. But can you enjoy your life if you feel like you have no control over its direction? Enjoyment means feeling secure by having a job, feeling like you are respected and that your voice matters. If we can secure these basic minimums then yeah, go and enjoy your life.
How would someone get involved in IARS?
Simple. You can write a blog on anything – even something “enjoyable” like football or how to avoid food poisoning in India. Of course, policy topics are also welcome. If you want to support our campaigning work then all you have to do is get in touch. We are here to back all ideas. If you have a project in mind – i.e. how to make a short film about young people in London or how to run a campaign – we can help! Just drop us an email: A.Carmouche@iars.org.uk