“Children from disadvantaged backgrounds very often have high ambitions, especially when they’re young. But the odds against achieving them can worsen with age. All too often there comes a point when expectations shrink. They don’t see their elder siblings or friends go to University, so they think it’s not for them. Or no-one in their household is in paid work so they don’t expect to get a job. […] As a society we have to create a culture of much higher expectations for young people, both in homes and schools.” Sir Michael Wilshaw, 2013

We know that being born in a working class community doesn’t limit aspirations (Joseph Rowntree Foundation, 2012). Aspirations are high among all social groups: what varies is the strength of belief that those ambitions are achievable. This is often termed the poverty of expectation. 

RECLAIM challenges this by holding high expectations of the young people we work with.  We in turn see them, raise the expectations of those around them – in their families and communities.

However, we know that it also takes resilience and confidence - not to mention networks and skills - to become a leader in modern Britain. A young working class person faces a myriad of additional challenges to fulfill their leadership potential. It takes huge resilience to keep trying, despite rejection after rejection and skill and innovation to keep looking for new routes to success. For many young people, without a pushy teacher or a well-connected parent, leadership feels like an impossible dream.

Now, perhaps more than ever, the disconnect between leadership and left-behind communities is clear. There are few modern ‘working class heroes’ to look up to, and the pathway to leadership positions for young people from working class communities is greatly limited. Social mobility is stagnating and levels of social inequality are worsening.

The attainment gap at the age of 5 may have started to close, but in higher education, those from the most advantaged fifth of communities are more than 9 times more likely to go to one of the top universities than the least advantaged two-fifths. Even when they get there, current research by RECLAIM into barriers facing working class people at University found that 74.8% felt like they didn’t belong within their institution. 

Though leadership should reflect the diversity of British society, there are few working class voices at the top. For example, in politics since 1979 the amount of MPs with previous work history in manual or clerical roles has decreased from 40% to just 5%.

The silent message of 'They Speak Loud. We Speak Louder' really hit home. Living in Salford, we are presumed by some to be immersed in a violent, gun toting culture. Of course that isn't so. Media propaganda often dictates what people believe. Case and point the futile murder of Jessie James in Moss Side a few years ago. I remember the phrase 'Gunchester' being bandied about. As though gun play was the norm so we should accept what happened. For me, the whole concept of bringing the youth of any given community together, all joined in the ethos of positive change, is a wonderful, brave and important mission.” – Mother of participant, 2015

We work in communities which are stigmatised and written off as ‘hard to reach’ or disadvantaged. Today, 33% of the population suffers from ‘multiple deprivation’ – up from just 14% in 1983. Within the five most deprived areas in England, the average percentage of young people (0-15) is 20.18%. Alongside this, 26.9% of under 19s are at high risk of social exclusion.

Young people are suffering in modern Britain. The world feels scary, and there are ever fewer services providing support. Numerous reports demonstrate that we need to act now to support young people from working class communities in order to enable them to achieve their potential and become happy, healthy, and critically engaged citizens. Shockingly, 15 year olds in England and Wales are among the least likely to report levels of life satisfaction - only children from Poland and Macedonia being less satisfied. (WHO, Growing up Unequal, 2016).

It is important now more than ever that young people from working class areas are seen, heard and LEAD positive social change. It is time to tell a different story. A story that concentrates on the strengths of working class communities, where their voices are heard in creating a more fair and prosperous society.