What is youth social action?

Youth social action refers to activities that young people do to make a positive difference to others or the environment.

There are lots of ways in which young people can take practical action to make a positive difference. It can take place in a range of contexts and can mean formal or informal activities. These include volunteering, fundraising, campaigning or supporting peers.

Young people don’t have to try and save the world on their own. Taking small positive actions to improve your home, school or local community can all make a big difference.

Making the case for youth social action

When young people take part in high quality social action, everyone benefits:

  • Organisations benefit from young people’s energy, ideas and capacity to create positive change. They gain a different perspective that can shift their way of thinking and open up new ways of working.
  • Communities benefit when young people feel valued, engaged and involved. It can create a greater sense of community and boost social cohesion and integration.
  • Young people develop their character and confidence. They experience higher levels of wellbeing that can help improve their mental resilience. They also develop vital skills and networks that can support future employment.

Read more about benefits specific to your interest or sector by clicking the buttons to the left.

What is High Quality Social Action?

What does great youth social action look like? Research suggests that high quality activities will meet six principles including:

  • Be youth-led
  • Be challenging
  • Have social impact
  • Allow progression to other opportunities
  • Be embedded in a young person’s life
  • Enable reflection about the value of the activity

The higher the quality of the social action, the more likely it is to benefit both the young people involved and the communities or causes they are trying to help.

Young people likely to take part in social action in future:

68%

Currently taking part in meaningful social action:

40%

Young people from more affluent backgrounds taking part:

51%

Young people from lower socio-economic backgrounds taking part:

32%

How Many Young People are Taking Part?

We know that young people want to take part in social action: 68% of them say they are likely to do so in the future. However, only 4 in 10 young people are currently participating in meaningful social action – and participation rates have remained the same since 2014.

However, young people from lower-income backgrounds are less likely to take part in social action than their wealthier peers (51% in the wealthiest income brackets vs. 32% in the lowest income brackets).

That means that most young people from low-income backgrounds are not accessing the wide range of benefits that participation in social action can provide. It also means that their communities  are not getting the full benefit of their talent, energy and ideas.

Every year, alongside Ipsos Mori annd The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, we run the National Youth Social Action Survey to measure the how many young people are taking part in social action, and what kinds of social action they’re doing.

What motivates young people to take part?

From the National Youth Social Action Survey, we know that most young people who take part in social action do so because they want to rather than because they have to.

Key motivations include participating with family and friends, and accessing opportunities through school, college or work.

“I don’t know how/ no one asked me”

35%

“It never occurred to me”

35%

What stops young people taking part?

6 out of 10 young people are keen to help others and/or the environment. So why don’t more take part?

For those who had not participated in social action in the past 12 months, the most common reasons given are ‘I don’t know how to get involved/no one has asked me’ and ‘It never occurred to me to take part’ (both mentioned by 35%). Three in ten young people simply say ‘I’m not interested’ (31%).

Why should young people start social action before the age of 10?

Starting a journey of social action at a young age is critical. The Habits of Service research by the Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues demonstrated the value of starting early and exposing young people to meaningful opportunities to make a positive contribution.

The research found that those who first get involved in service under the age of 10 are:

  • More than twice as likely to form a habit of service than if they start aged 16–18 years.
  • More likely to be involved in a wider range of service activities and to participate in them more frequently.
  • More likely to identify themselves more closely with moral and civic values such as open-mindedness, compassion and hope.