What should a 3-year government strategy for young people contain?
The Network of Regional Youth Work Units welcomes DCMS commitment to develop a 3-year strategy for young people. We want to work with the government, youth sector colleagues and young people to ensure that the strategy is a genuine cross-departmental initiative that takes into account the many different factors that impact on young people’s lives and does not concern itself simply with the elements that are included in DCMS’s current brief. We want to see a strategy that fully engages education, health, care, arts, sport, transport and aspires to make England a country where young people are encouraged to feel they are a valued part of the community.
A starting point would be to respond to young people’s demands for voting rights at 16, which would recognise young people as active citizens whose views are as important as other people in the community. Evidence from the Scottish Independence Referendum in 2014 showed that young people used their votes responsibly. There are opportunities coming up in elections for Metro-Mayors where votes at 16 could be piloted and evaluated in England. We urge the government to use these elections to test take-up of votes at 16.
We believe there are some important issues to address for the youth sector itself, and want to see these emphasised in the strategy.
- Young people and their parents believe that the people who work with them in youth organisations are trained and qualified in what they do. Increasingly this is not the case as the infrastructure and funding for training youth workers has withered during the austerity years since 2010, and most of those working in youth organisations have no or little access to relevant training and qualifications. Young people and communities benefit from a skilled and confident workforce and it is essential that some resources are found to make training and qualifications available, particularly to those working in voluntary sector organisations, whether paid or in a voluntary capacity. The sector has maintained a coherent framework for training and qualifications, including apprenticeships, and this should be extended and made more widely available.
- There is a strong emphasis on involving young people in social action in the current government approach, and we support this drive. However, the way in which social action is defined should be broadened, to include more youth-led and issue-based campaigning alongside more formal volunteering. Young people become active citizens in a number of ways, and all possible routes should be included in the youth strategy.
- Youth work and work with young people now happens in a very wide range of settings, both open access and targeted at young people with specific needs and vulnerabilities. The key elements remain the same however – building long-term trusted relationships between the worker and young people and working in locations, at times and on issues that are chosen by young people. The notion of social pedagogy, widely used in mainland Europe should be given more serious consideration as an effective way of working with young people, and a youth strategy that provided opportunities to pilot the approach with young people in England would be welcome
- Finally, resources for work with young people have been greatly diminished since 2010 as a result of local authority cuts and fewer specific opportunities for grant aid for youth organisations from trusts and major funders. The government currently makes a very substantial contribution to one flagship project, National Citizens Service, and we question whether this is the right approach in a time when the youth sector and services to young people in general are under enormous pressure. Investing so heavily in NCS, particularly in its current format of a single 4-week programme for 16 year olds when in many areas there is no provision available for the rest of the year does not seem to us to be an effective way to support young people into active citizenship. We would advocate for a significant reduction in resourcing for this model of NCS in order to free up money for essential infrastructure such as trained staff and support to voluntary organisations to help them improve their offer to young people and become more sustainable.
The Network of Regional Youth Work Units through its members in regions supports the development of a 3-year strategy and will be happy to work with partners to engage young people and the youth sector across the country.