A Network of Regional Youth Work Units, in England, collaborating across regions to promote good youth work and young people’s voices.
In this week’s blog, Gill Millar from Regional Youth Work Unit at Learning South West explores the impact of the recent Summer Budget on young people across the country and looks at whether we, as a society, trust young people or not.
Another budget, another set of challenges for young people. ‘Earn or learn’ – a youth obligation; no new improved minimum/living wage; no access to housing benefit; maintenance grants for university to become loans and a lot less money for further education to provide some of these learning opportunities.
In a budget where ostensibly there was something for everyone, it was hard to see anything that would help young people make the transition to becoming part of the much-vaunted ‘hard-working families’. Young people are likely to be substantially worse off in real terms and in relation to the rest of the population.
I won’t continue to moan about the drastic decline in open access youth provision – I’m sure all our readers are aware of that. But I should point out some of the other ways in which young people’s pathway to adulthood is made more challenging – removal of Education Maintenance Allowance for FE learners; sharp increase in public transport costs alongside reduction in services, especially outside the major cities; high rents and high charges for young people taking on tenancies, reduction in supported housing (which will be exacerbated by the lack of access to housing benefit); not enough apprenticeships for 16-18-year-olds and a ridiculously low hourly rate for apprentices; withdrawal of vocational qualifications from schools and requirement to keep resitting Maths and English despite previous failure – I could go on, but it is too depressing.
It would be easy to blame the Tories for a set of policies that seem to discriminate against young people. However, the marginalisation of young people in England is not new. There has been an anti-youth strand in government policy for a long time – remember curfews for young people, multiple ASBOs and the ‘Mosquito’? The old Victorian saying that children should be seen and not heard, when applied to young people has an additional clause – preferably, we’d rather not see them either.
It seems that as a country we are only interested in young people if we can turn them into something they are not – essentially small, polite adults. We want them to be good citizens and we want to build their character (as long as we can do both those things in a short term programme) but we don’t want to hear any demands as a result. We still don’t trust them to vote and we obviously don’t think they can handle money as we make sure they don’t have any to practice with.
I don’t know much about other countries, but I’m pretty sure that England takes a particularly dim view of its youth. European colleagues are shocked when they learn about the youth policy vacuum in England, and how young people are simply not trusted or regarded as important to the future of the nation. I don’t know how we got here, but I do think that change needs to happen at a fundamental philosophical level to have any lasting effect. It is interesting to see how perceptions of young people shifted in Scotland when they were allowed to vote in the referendum – suddenly the media wanted to know what they thought, and seemed surprised to find that they were really quite articulate and clear-thinking. We’ve missed an opportunity for that to happen in England as Parliament confirmed the national prejudice by voting not to allow young people to vote in the EU referendum. But something must change and the youth sector can play a role by highlighting the bigger problem and seeking solutions – hopefully solutions that start by involving young people!
Regional Youth Work Adviser
Learning South West