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The hidden impact of Brexit on young Scots

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As Brexit continues to dominate the headlines, Scotland’s anti-bullying service, respectme is urging educators to offer support

The hidden impact of Brexit on young Scots has been revealed.

As Brexit continues to dominate the headlines, Scotland’s anti-bullying service, respectme is urging educators to recognise its often hidden social impact on children and young people.

Young people across Scotland have told the University of Strathclyde as part of a study that they have experienced a significant rise in racism and xenophobia – often disguised as jokes or ‘banter’ and bullying behaviours – on a daily basis. Additionally, more than three in four young people (77%) said they had experienced xenophobia and racism and 50% said they have seen more incidents since Brexit.

Kitti, a Hungarian national who has lived in Scotland since she was nine, said: “During my school years, I found it really difficult to make friends because I was still trying to learn the language and the other children didn’t like it when I didn’t laugh at their jokes. It wasn’t because I didn’t find them funny, I was just trying to figure out what they were saying.

“As I got older, I found I was the subject of lots of ‘jokes’ about EU nationals which were so subtle that even my teachers didn’t take them seriously. I know they weren’t meant to be mean but there didn’t seem to be any understanding of my background and why some of the jokes were offensive.

“Now, I feel like I need to become more Scottish so that I fit in and people will accept me more. I just want certainty that I will be able to stay in this country that I call home after the Brexit process is complete.”

As a result of the study, the University of Strathclyde and Scotland’s anti-bullying service, respectme, have developed a brand new anti-bullying resource that can be used in youth group settings and classrooms that aims to challenge prejudice-based bullying and improve understanding of the experiences of young people from a migrant background.

Dr Daniela Sime, reader in education and social justice and the project leader at the University of Strathclyde, said: “The study highlighted that bullying experienced by EU nationals living here, many identifying as Scottish, has been on the rise since the Brexit discussions and motions began. This is a hidden problem in our schools and youth settings, and one that we can categorically link back to the political unrest across the country.

“We have been working with respectme to develop a new resource that addresses the behaviours that lead to bullying and hope there is widespread uptake of this among schools, youth leaders and even parents and carers.”

The new resource forms part of the anti-bullying service’s year-long campaign called #ChooseRespect and will form the third phase called Building Empathy. The resource asks teachers and youth practitioners to explore the notion of empathy, by exploring the experiences of young people who come from a migrant background.

Katie Ferguson, service director of respectme, said: “The societal impacts of Brexit are being widely reported but we shouldn’t overlook the discrimination and impacts experienced by children and young people.

“No young person should have to experience bullying because of their nationality or identity and we hope the resource can contribute to greater understanding and respect by helping to deconstruct some of the prejudice and misconceptions that can lead to bullying.”

The research carried out by the University of Strathclyde also explored young EU nationals everyday experiences of identity and belonging in UK in the context of Brexit. Amongst the qualitative data from 1000 survey respondents on their experiences, the study found that 81% of young people with EU nationalities ‘did not feel hopeful about their futures because of the UK’s decision to leave the EU’. Additionally 54% said they felt worried about leaving the EU, while 27% they felt scared about the result of the Brexit process.

Deputy First Minister John Swinney said: “EU citizens will always be welcome in Scotland and every child, no matter where they are from, deserves to grow up in a healthy and happy environment.

“Bullying of any kind is unacceptable and we are absolutely committed to working with schools, councils and respectme to prevent bullying and educate our young people.”

respectme is Scotland’s anti-bullying service, it launched a national campaign that aims to drive respectful, positive relationships through a series of resources and learning materials which are designed to help teachers and youth workers spark anti-bullying conversations and learning across Scotland. This campaign, called #ChooseRespect, builds on the 2017/18 campaign called #RespectMeans.

#ChooseRespect, was launched during Anti-Bullying Week 2018, and invited all those working with young people – from teachers and youth group leaders to sports coaches and community volunteers – to host anti-bullying sessions or workshops.

The materials are suitable for young people of primary and secondary age and all are free to download online.