Bridging the Brexit generation gap

By Becky Morton
BBC political reporter

  • Published
Anti-Brexit protesters at Downing StreetImage source, PA
Image caption,
Young people were more likely than older generations to vote remain

The generation gap in British society seems wider than ever but is part of the problem that the young and old never spend time together?

This year's general election saw age divide the electorate more than in any other vote since the 1970s.

The EU Referendum was a similar picture. Around three-quarters of young people voted Remain, while two-thirds of older people voted Leave.

New research has found one in four young Remainers would be happy to see pensions cut to stop Brexit, while the same proportion of older Brexit voters would accept lower wages for younger people to secure Brexit.

The polling, carried out by YouGov on behalf of the All Party Parliamentary Group on social integration, also showed three-quarters of young people who voted Remain believe older people are prejudiced, and a similar percentage of older Leave voters believe young people have a sense of entitlement and are unwilling to work hard.

The research comes as the cross-party group launches an inquiry into how society is affected when different age groups don't mix.

The group's 39-year-old chairman Chuka Ummuna said age now seemed to be "the biggest determinant" of how people vote.

"That is simply not a healthy, cohesive society, if you have that level of intergenerational division politically," the Labour MP told the BBC.

However, the MP for Streatham said the group's initial research suggested divisions between generations may not be as deep as political polling suggests.

"There undoubtedly are divisions but they don't perhaps play out in the way that we perceive them to. At times, stereotypes of how the generations behave and see things cloud the reality," he said.

"With the stereotyping and media narrative of baby boomers and Millennials, increasingly you see generations' interests pitched against each other, when that doesn't necessarily need to be the case."

New analysis of the British Social Attitudes survey by the group revealed that health, education and housing were priorities for all age groups.

Where there were significant differences between generations, these tended to be over social issues, with younger people holding more liberal attitudes towards sex and relationships.

Nevertheless, launching the group's inquiry, Mr Ummuna said society was "more divided by age today than at any other time in modern history".

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Only 25% of over-65s voted Labour in the general election, while 62% of 18-24 year-olds did

David Williams, chief executive of St Monica Trust, a Bristol-based charity, said there was "clear evidence" bringing the generations together had "massive benefits".

"When the generations mix, it's OK to have different political views because people have different political views in everyday life. What's important is that ability to develop a relationship with people that do have different views," he said.

The charity, which runs a range of retirement villages, is involved in a programme which matches students to elderly residents to take part in a shared activity.

Pat Ison, an 82-year-old from Bristol, was matched with a student from the University of West England, who helped teach her computer skills.

With no grandchildren, Pat hadn't spent time with young people since before she retired.

"You get rather tucked away when you get older. I was a bit wary they might think I was just an old lady and a bit stupid but they were all very patient," said Pat.

"Really I found we're all just the same. I found it very encouraging I could communicate with young people and we got on very well."

Pat said she is still in touch with the student she was partnered with.

"I think it's really good for the generations to mix. We get to hear their ideas instead of forming our ideas from newspapers about what young people think," she said.

Image source, Kenneth Cajigas
Image caption,
Kenneth, 18, found spending time with older generations challenged his preconceptions

Kenneth Cajigas, 18, from London, agreed that spending time with different generations challenged media stereotypes.

"Especially with Brexit, the media showed an image of older people wanting to leave the EU and younger people wanting to stay in. It created a kind of divide between the two but in reality I don't think there's that much of a divide. It's just a matter of getting them together," he said.

Kenneth took part in HeadStart, a scheme which matches young people to projects in their community where they work alongside people from different backgrounds.

In return for 16 hours of volunteering, young people gain access to a guaranteed job interview with a corporate partner.

Kenneth volunteered at a bowling green in his area. After completing the scheme, he got a job at Starbucks and went on to secure an apprenticeship in IT.

But he said the scheme offered him more than just job opportunities, through the contact he had with older generations.

"When I started I thought I wouldn't be able to relate to them or talk to them but once I got into it I felt more comfortable and realised what I assumed was completely wrong," said Kenneth.

"I learnt a lot from the older people. It has really changed the way I am. It's given me life skills - like how to communicate with people who are different to you," he said.

"When you spend time together you realise you have shared interests. It challenges your stereotypes of what older people are like."