England & Wales, Northern Ireland, Scotland Democracy, devolution and governance

How local government can improve political literacy and democratic engagement

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Photo by Thomas Chan on Unsplash

Shout Out UK is a multi-award winning social enterprise that provides impartial political and media Llteracy training and campaigns focused on democratic engagement and combatting disinformation online, tailored to local circumstances and culture. In this article, Matteo Bergamini, SOUK’s CEO and Founder, reflects on their recent work with the GLA, shedding light on the ways local authorities can encourage political literacy and democratic engagement.

Democratic engagement and Political Literacy are one and the same. We can’t expect high levels of critical engagement in democracy without first ensuring those who can vote are informed of their democratic rights and responsibilities. Currently, Political Literacy is missing from schools, depriving young people of this vital education.

The problem grows as it is not just the next generation that missed out. A report co-created by the UK’s All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Political Literacy, the University of Sheffield, and Shout Out UK (SOUK), which polled Parents of more than 1,500 pupils aged 11-18, together with 3,300 secondary school teachers found that while 72% of parents consider it important for children to be politically literate, only 1% of teachers in England feel prepared to teach politics.

SOUK was created specifically to resolve this issue, which, left unchecked, will disrupt the very democracy most of us take for granted. Launched in 2015 when I was 22, we have grown into the foremost creative social enterprise on a mission to defend and amplify democracy by ensuring all citizens understand how their government functions through political literacy, are inoculated from disinformation and misinformation through media literacy and are given a chance to have a say in how their country is run through our own youth voice platform and various programmes.

One such programme, launched in June 2023, is our unprecedented, impartial public awareness campaign about changes to the voting system to ensure every eligible Londoner can continue to access their democratic rights. In partnership with the Greater London Authority (GLA), Local councils, civil society groups and education institutions, this campaign aims to ensure all Londoners are given the political literacy necessary to not get caught out by the changes.

Last month, thousands of eligible voters were unable to exercise their democratic rights across England when the first elections took place since the new mandatory photo Voter IDs rule was introduced, with the Electoral Commission stating that voter ID “posed a greater challenge for some groups in society”.

Phase two of the awareness campaign, which is coordinated with the Electoral Commission’s nationwide campaign, will see communication to Londoners across traditional and social media, as well as grassroots community engagement. It will include accessible materials for Deaf and disabled Londoners and translations in 15 community languages. Along with the more standard digital approaches, the GLA and SOUK are launching a WhatsApp-based Democracy chatbot helpline that will support Londoners to navigate the voting changes. Once accessed through your phone, as you respond the chatbot will give voters personalised advice tailored to their needs ensuring all the unique intricacies of the elections act that often affects citizens differently depending on their situation are given in an accessible and impartial way. A first in the sector.

Political Literacy is all-encompassing, it should start in school with lessons and continue throughout our democratic lives through creative, record-setting campaigns like this one backed by a positive impartial collaborative relationship between civil society, education and government. I couldn’t be prouder to be part of this historic work of ensuring every single Londoner is aware of the changes to the way we engage in our democracy, with a particular focus on those likely to be most impacted. Watch this space.



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