20th century political activist and Jamaican civil rights leader, Marcus Garvey, said that “People without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture [are] like a tree without roots.” Culture is something which epitomises a country or a territory where a group of peoples’ work is so celebrated that it takes on a new meaning. It is something that is owned by all or owned by no one, depending on how you look at it, and should theoretically be accessible to all.
So how come we’re all forking out to go to the theatre, to look at art and to buy books about our nation’s history? Now I get that these things are products and services, and that museums need maintenance and actors need paying, but what if there was a radical new idea which gave young people better access to our shared history and culture?
Well in Italy such an idea has already been rolled out. In 2016, then Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, began a scheme to give all 18 year olds leaving Italian schools €500 to spend on whatever cultural experiences they wished. This scheme costs €290 million a year and works on a kind of equivalent points system so that the cash can’t just be spent at the bar (but you’d never dream of doing that anyway). French Presidential hopeful, Emmanuel Macron, plans to put in place a similar scheme and the European Commission is currently looking into the possibility of giving all 18-year-old EU citizens free interrail passes to use on trains all over the continent.
Both these ideas stand a real possibility of becoming law and that’s in part because of the benefits of schemes like these. The price-tag that comes with these policies is relatively small considering that on the whole, all a government has to do is let some youngsters into some museums for free and in return a country gets much more educated and informed youth. Meanwhile, on planet Brexit, the idea of promoting national identity and patriotism amongst the younger generation is being viewed as extremely beneficial.
To the wealthier, older population it’s easy to pay for entry into an exclusive museum and to buy a glossy book from the gift shop on the way out but for students and young people, lower down on the pay scale, it’s almost unaffordable to spend our income on culture. As a generation, many of us value our education and the internet allows us to keep learning once we leave school but we are easily priced out of learning about our culture, which is supposed to be our roots.
And yet Brexiteers and a certain Mr Trump (don’t know if you’ve heard of him) believe in promoting national values. But policies like these aren’t high up on agendas because they seem like unnecessary handouts. What they need to realise though, is that for young people to be enthralled by their national story they need the tools to access their culture rather than just being told they should be British and proud because they…just should be?! Giving youngsters fresh out of school the ability to continue their learning but on their own terms, and in what areas they please for free can only be beneficial.
There are reports from Italy that those who are simply not interested in further exploring their nation’s culture are buying €500 worth of books and selling them online…obviously that’s not a good thing for anyone. So if this scheme came to the UK the right sort of protections would have to be put in place to ensure that the system wasn’t exploited. But more educated younger citizens, who have been given a stake in Britain’s past and present, are more likely to help shape the future of our country for the better. This scheme is more than just a hand out to kids, it’s a way of better engaging an important demographic in society and the knock on economic and societal benefits could be manifold. From higher turnouts in elections to brighter solutions to the problems Britain faces.
The idea is a very intriguing one because it speaks of what sort of society a country wants to be. To promote national culture and identity can be seen as rather right wing (…Tory…) but to do that by offering young people free access to their culture is very liberal. Across the UK, especially in London, it is not uncommon to find ‘free to enter’ museums but for Millennials in search of other free experiences around the country, you could be looking for quite some time. Unless you’re from Scotland we can’t even get university education for free. So realistically there’s a fat chance that today’s young Brits will be getting free books and educational experiences through some sort of credit system. But as the idea gains support in Europe, and Brexit pushes the idea of Britishness further into our lives, we may soon no longer need pockets full of pounds to see a great show or to look at some top quality art.
If you want to manage your pennies better so you can experience more of your city’s culture- because it ain’t cheap- then download Loot here. The app lets you budget, put money aside and use your contactless card abroad without any additional fees. Now you have an excuse for a ‘culture trip’.