Anna Kucinska
06 August 2014

Young people in the UK choose co-operatives as an empowering solution to youth unemployment

Becoming increasingly frustrated with unpaid internships, underpaid jobs and youth unemployment young people in the UK are venturing into the world of co-operatives.
 
One of the many examples is AltGen co-op, launched this July and based in London. It aims to support 18-29-year-olds to set up their own co-operative businesses as an empowering and collaborative solution to the crippling issue of youth unemployment. Currently in the UK 18% of young people aged 16 to 24 are unemployed, compared with the overall national figure of 7%.
 
A report published earlier this summer by the Institute of Fiscal Studies (IFS) illustrates how young people have taken a disproportionate hit during the economic downturn. The report found that between 2007 and 2013 the employment rate among 22-30 year-olds fell by 4% while among 31-59 year olds it remained stable. Over the same period, young people aged 22-30 saw their household incomes fall by 13% while those aged 31-59 saw a 7% drop.
 
One of the first projects that AltGen has unveiled is the Young Co-operators Prize which will award five £2,000 start-up grants to young people who have ideas for potentially successful co-ops. The competition is a collaboration with ten leading universities including Bristol, Goldsmiths and Leeds and Co-operatives UK, the trade body for the UK's co-operative movement.
 
"The main aim is to inspire young people to start thinking outside standard career routes and to explore what would be more beneficial for them, rather than fighting for unpaid work," says 26-year-old Amanda Walters, AltGen's online content editor. "What we've found is that the co-operative movement hasn't been great at communicating with young people and letting them know that working as a co-op is a viable alternative to working for a mainstream company."
 
Ed Mayo, secretary general of Co-operatives UK, accepts the criticism and promises more action on the issue: "The co-operative movement needs to be more open and less insular, using 21st century technology to spread our message, reaching younger generations which we need to support in every way possible," says Mayo.
 
Other examples of emerging co-operatives run by young people are: Glad Rags, a cut-price fashion shop in Glasgow, Coffee Cranks, a bike-powered mobile tea and coffee shop in Manchester, and Broken Spoke Bike bicycle workshop in Oxford. In Scotland, the Edinburgh Student Housing Co-operative, one of the first and biggest student housing co-ops in the UK, will be providing affordable accommodation to 106 students from the autumn.
 
To further encourage students to put co-operatives on their potential employment radar, this autumn AltGen will be visiting universities around the country where they'll be holding workshops and meeting students at careers fairs.
"We want students who are thinking about their careers to know that setting up a co-op and working for a co-op is a real possibility," Walters concludes.

 

 
Based on: Simon Birch, Alternative generation: disenfranchised youth look to co-ops for work, www.theguardian.com, 31 July 2014

 
More information on AltGen: http://www.altgen.org.uk/