A new survey finds that young people are personally cautious but politically opinionated, reports Biddy Passmore. Today's young people are uninterested in party politics but have strong views on key political issues. They are convinced that reducing poverty would help cut crime and that British society - including the justice system - is prejudiced against the poor and against black people.
Far from being wild iconoclasts, however, they are a cautious lot: mostly God-fearing and law-abiding, worried about bullying at school and frightened of going out after dark.
These are the main findings from the first nationwide survey of young people's social attitudes, commissioned by the charity, Barnardo's, and carried out by Community Planning Research. The survey was undertaken in 1994 with 580 young people aged between 12 and 19 who were living in the households of the adult sample for the British Social Attitudes survey.
Barnardo's launches the survey today at the start of its "Give us a Break" campaign, in which it will work with young people to highlight such issues as the rehabilitation of young offenders and the extent of youth homelessness. The charity believes the young can be re-engaged in politics if their views are taken seriously.
The survey found that 59 per cent of young people had little or no interest in politics and only one-fifth supported a political party.
The great majority, however, had strong views on crime, poverty and racial issues. Nearly four out of five believed that reducing poverty would help cut crime, considering that more effective than cutting violence on television (51 per cent) or boosting religion (32 per cent). Two-thirds thought that a poor person was more likely than a rich person to be found guilty of a crime they did not commit.
The young people questioned were themselves victims of a high level of crime. Four-fifths had already been the victim of at least one crime and the same proportion felt either very unsafe, a bit unsafe or only fairly safe going out after dark. Only 5 per cent of young women felt very safe going out on their own after dark.
Racial prejudice was widely acknowledged as a problem. Nearly one-third (28 per cent) admitted to some degree of racial prejudice, compared with 36 per cent of adults.
About nine out of ten thought that British society was prejudiced against Asians and black people, with more than four out of ten considering that a black person was more likely than a white person to be found guilty of a crime they did not commit.
The survey also reveals a marked shift in views on gender roles. More than two-thirds of young men and nearly nine out of ten young women disagreed with the assumption that men should go out to work and women should stay at home.
But the great majority - four out of five - considered it acceptable for young people to live together without getting married and the same proportion (more in the case of young men) thought it a good idea for a couple who intend to marry to live together first.
However, young women were far more likely than young men to think they should end a relationship rather than staying together for the sake of the children.
On education, the overwhelming majority (93 per cent) thought parents should have a say in what is taught in school and three-quarters thought their children should have a say. Four out of five reported bullying at school and most worried about being able to get a job on leaving.
The survey sample was overwhelmingly in favour of sex education at secondary school but fewer than four in ten young people thought it was a good idea at primary level.
Nearly six out of ten young people said they believed in God and nearly three-quarters said they would take a Pounds 100 note they had found in the street to the police station.
Young People's Social Attitudes, available from Barnardo's Publications (tel 01268 520228) and bookshops, priced Pounds 18.99 (ISBN 0-902046-30-6).