Making a difference with your finances: youth, social action, and money

9 out of 10 young people are concerned about climate change, but just 1 in 10 think their church does enough to address the problem. In this guest blog Lucy Tiller, an intern for the Joint Public Issues Team and Methodist Youth President, Phoebe Parkin reflect on how the conversation around ethical finance is open to all generations.

These headlines from a recent report produced by We Are Tearfund and Youthscape have been extensively shared online. But dig a little deeper into the findings of the report, and it becomes clear that the overarching theme is much broader than climate justice alone. Young Christians have a passion for social action generally – climate justice, tackling discrimination, ending poverty – and it is a passion which is rooted in their faith. But at the same time, many don’t believe they have the power, influence or authority to make a difference.

The way that we handle money – as individuals, churches, and society – can have a real impact on the world around us. ECCR’s Money Makes Change resources show how, when it comes to our pension funds and our banks, our individual actions can make a huge difference. Thinking about finances is also a really useful way to bridge the gap between making personal lifestyle changes – like recycling or eating less meat – and systemic changes, which make the most profound and long-lasting differences.

But for younger people, this conversation is much more difficult to access.  Children and young people do care about issues of social justice, and they do have an awareness of the impact of consumer habits on corporate behaviour. But a conversation about ethical pensions is difficult to access if you don’t have a pension. A conversation about ethical banking is difficult to access if you don’t have a bank account. A conversation about money, in short, is difficult to access when you have very little independent control of whatever funds you may have.

In preparation for writing this blog, I chatted to Phoebe Parkin, Methodist Youth President. We discussed how young people can make a difference through the way that they think about handling money. She’s seen the desire for change and the frustration about powerlessness in action from young people. In the words of one child, “by the time I’m old enough to do anything about the climate crisis, it’ll be too late.”

Thinking about money looks different if you’re a child or a young person. But that doesn’t mean that it isn’t an important conversation for young people to be accessing. Phoebe finds thinking about her finances intimidating, and knows that many people feel the same. But for young people, the resources don’t always exist to start taking action.

There’s clearly a gap in the market for thinking about children and young people, finances, and ethics. But how can we create a vision of ethical finances which is accessible to children and young people – one that doesn’t always start with banks and pensions?

Phoebe thinks we need to start these conversations earlier and focus on education. In our conversation, she suggested that “Inspiring children and young people at a much earlier age by how their financial choices will impact social justice issues would be effective and speaks to their passion for social justice”. This might mean including ethics in all-age talks about stewarding money, or simply talking about money with children and young people, reckoning with the fact that money can be both a positive and a negative force in the world – and that our choices can influence this. Encouraging children and young people to think about any finances they do have ethically – even if it’s 50p a week in pocket money – can be really beneficial. And for those about to go to university, why not check out The Switch and make sure that you open an ethical student account?

There are complexities around accessibility when it comes to thinking about ethical finances. For example, not everyone has the flexibility to move to an ethical bank when they are a student, because they might need access to a well-serviced overdraft. But when talking to children and young people, there shouldn’t be a fear of addressing these complexities. We are, generally speaking, a generation with a heart for social justice, and are well-versed in understanding complexity. 

God can and does speak through children and young people. That’s why the conversation about ethics, money, and faith has to start before a person puts their first contribution into a pension – even before they start handling their student loan. Equipping children and young people to make informed choices about how they manage their finances, and helping them to understand the consequences of where they invest their money, is the only route to ensuring that ethical financing is embedded in our societal understanding of what it means to steward money well.

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