Convener Welfare Reform Committee

Michael McMahon MSP

FINANCIAL IMPACT OF WELFARE REFORM WILL BE HORRENDOUS

Michael McMahon MSP, Convener of Holyrood’s Welfare Reform Committee

When the Scottish Parliament established the Welfare Reform Committee to look at the impact that the UK Governments benefits changes were having in Scotland we knew that we had to assemble the fullest picture possible of who was being affected and in what ways. We immediately set ourselves the task of listening to as many individuals and groups as we could.

We set up a portal on our web page called ‘Your Say’ which is the Committee’s initiative to hear directly from people who are affected by welfare reforms.

We very quickly realised from the information we began to collect that the fears being expressed to us at the outset were no exaggeration and were, in fact, an underestimation of the individual and societal devastation which was about to unfold.

To enhance the picture the Committee also commissioned, and last month published, research on the impact of welfare reform in Scotland. The impact was assessed in terms of the financial loss that would be experienced across Scotland and in each local authority.

The headline figure is that the impact on Scotland will be £1.6 billion a year – or an average loss per working age adult of £480 a year. There can be no doubt from this research that the financial implications of welfare reform on communities will be horrendous.

What is now known, too, is that some of the biggest impacts of welfare reform will be on disabled people, women and single parent families.

Additionally concerning, however, is the as yet unknown impact that the welfare changes will have on wider issues affecting children that are only now beginning to emerge.

Fears over increases in homelessness due to the so called ‘bedroom tax’, potential reductions in foster care availability and increased levels of child poverty are all strengthening as the fuller picture begins to form.

What these reforms will do to individuals is bad enough but could also be devastating to housing associations. It is no exaggeration to say that there is a real danger that some housing associations could fold and we need to look at the implications of this should it happen.

The pressure on third sector groups who work to support disadvantaged groups will also intensify and put them under unbearable strain.

We, therefore, need to continue to monitor how the changes are impacting, not simply to amplify the concerns being raised but to produce advice and information which can inform the Scottish Government as to what mitigation policies they require to introduce and to help the Committee scrutinise the effectiveness of any assistance that is put in place by Scottish Ministers.

We have heard from a number of organisations who understand the issues which will affect children and young people but the Committee has not yet directly heard the voices of children and young people so we will be looking for opportunities to explore ways to do this in order to make sure that their stories are also reaching the Committee.

We already know that there are specific issues for young people who may be immediately and individually affected by welfare reforms, such as 17 years olds who will face the transition from Disability Living Allowance to Personal Independence Payment.

That is why, when the Committee considers its future work programme before the summer recess it is likely that one of the areas that will be discussed for potential future scrutiny work will be the impact of welfare reforms in relation to children and young people.

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BEHIND EVERY AWARD …

Sue McWhirter Cultural Diversity Winner

Louise Macdonald is the CEO for Young Scot, the national youth information and citizenship agency.

Twitter @Louisemac

It was a humbling and very emotional night. No, not Fergie’s retirement party (still waiting on my invite). I’m talking about being extremely proud of young Scots at the recent Young Scot Awards.

If you’re reading this blog, it’s likely you work with young people every day like we do, and you know how brilliant they are. But beyond our desks, outside our office walls, community halls, schools and colleges, can we confidently say everyone else shares our passion in young people? Of course, they should. But too often we still witness people’s automatic reaction as one that veers towards tracksuit-wearing aliens, rather than potential agents of positive change in our communities. This domination of the “deficit model” is hugely frustrating, but should only re-energise our focus on continuing to find ways to ensure our belief in young people is wholeheartedly shared and celebrated.

From health to community, to volunteering and enterprise, the Sunday Mail Young Scot Awards are about giving Scotland an opportunity see, hear and listen to the outstanding achievements of young people. Through this high-profile platform we believe it creates a more honest perception of young people in our communities and across society.

So, the Awards are a chance to celebrate, the end result if you like. But how do our young nominees get to the point where they have the confidence and capacity to go out into their communities and make change happen?

The answer, dear reader, is you. It’s us. It’s we. Those around the country who are committed every day to giving the nurture, care and encouragement to young people to support them to become happy, healthy and confident citizens. The stories of the finalists and winners of the Young Scot Awards gave so many examples of this.

Take our Cultural Diversity winner, Sue McWhirter, aged 15. She had experienced homophobic bullying and rather than doing nothing about it, she was encouraged by her youth worker at LGBT Youth Scotland, Louisa McEvoy, to instigate change. With support, Sue has been instrumental in changing attitudes of homophobia and has created a DVD to support other LGBT young people. And Louisa’s support didn’t go unnoticed, when Sue gave her winner’s speech on the night she emotionally thanked her youth worker first.

Then there’s our Unsung Hero winner, Dean Crawford, aged 17, who also gave credit to his youth worker, Jimmy Wilson, when he picked up his Award from the cast of TOWIE. Dean had an extremely difficult upbringing in the East end of Glasgow, and lost two parents to knife crime and alcohol misuse. With an ambition to become a drug dealer, Dean’s outcome could have been a lot different if it wasn’t for the street team at FARE. They spotted Dean’s leadership skills and how he engaged with young people and channelled these skills into a positive outcome. Guess what? Dean is now a trained youth worker, making a difference to the lives of so many others in his community.

But these are just two of the stories from the night (and if you want to see more, I’d encourage you to check out the videos of ALL the finalists on http://www.thepatter.org). And you know, like we do, that there thousands more just waiting to be shared.

What our Awards, and the National Youth Worker Of The Year Awards run by YouthLink Scotland, demonstrate is that whilst we might not all have careers quite as overtly successful as Govan’s Sir Alex, we should celebrate the achievements of our young people just as wildly as he does when winning a trophy. So join with us running on the pitch, arms in the air, trophy above our heads, big smile on the face…. proud, very proud.

Work with us to share the positive stories of the young people you work with, over at: http://www.thepatter.org)

Reclaiming the Connection

JOHN PAUL

John Paul Fitzpatrick is the Business Development Lead at the Centre for Excellence for Looked After Children in Scotland based at Strathclyde University.

I am currently working through my Doctorate in Education; some might say it’s taking the lifelong learning bit of my Community Education Degree a bit too far. As part of the research for my doctorate I have been doing some interesting work with vulnerable young people across the country. I interviewed 23 young people who are all under a home supervision requirement. Home supervision is supposed to be about promoting positive changes in the life of a child while allowing them to remain at home, the changes can include a reduction in offending or lowering the risk of abuse or neglect although not always perceived as an effective intervention.

The young people in the study have been telling me about the importance of coaching and mentoring to them in navigating education, relationships, dealing with family and stress and really providing one to one guidance and support. This appears to be effective in helping them succeed during critical transition points.

Sadly, it appears that coaching and mentoring support which utilises a youth work approach is not universally viewed as an essential ingredient in helping young people achieve their full potential. Access to such resources across Scotland is currently a postcode lottery.

My contact with the young people in my study got me thinking again about the transformative power of youth work. Our work, regardless of setting, should always strive for deep connection, trust and meaningful relationships with young people that leads to change. Something that can be hard to achieve for those working within the boundaries of formal education and statutory services yet youth work professionals have this skill in abundance. Youth work approaches should be the first method of engaging young people who are the hardest to reach.

Young people tell me that we ask them to recount their stories to professionals daily, over and over again. I can identify with feeling lost and having to retell your story to strangers while negotiating a system that can be quite daunting. As by way of example, in Istanbul recently, my friend lost her mobile phone, ordinarily not really a big deal. However, believe me, it took, four hours, three police stations and telling the same story to 21 different police officers and at the end of day when the Turkish sun set, the mobile was not recovered! During that time we went through a variety of emotions ranging from stress, fear, hilarity, confusion, frustration and incredulity at the absurdity of it all. Sound familiar?

It strikes me this is what we are doing, unwittingly or not, to our young people every day of the week, as they navigate complex systems of work, benefits, school, social work and we strive to survive, manage risk, ensure accountability and often justify our own time and existence.

We need seismic change in the way our work is managed, structured and funded to allow us to connect with young people on a path that is more equitable, on their terms and meets their needs. Yes we need to be accountable – but what is it we are measuring? Funders need to take account of the importance of stability and continuity of workers engaging with young people. They have to consider longer term funding arrangements that mean staff stay rather than move on as funding is lost. If coaching and mentoring are vital to young people and helps them when the system has failed them, then let’s stop the postcode lottery and invest in this work – we would be spending but saving money.

Let’s be bold. It is time to stop merely surviving as a profession and start thriving. Let’s reclaim our relationships with young people – and the lifeblood of our profession.

The Elephant in the Room

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Recently at the YouthLink Scotland Policy Forum we were discussing the connections that exist between Youth Work and Sport and examining ways in which we could work better together across the various artificial boundaries that exist, some of which mean that many young people do not have free access to sport and leisure facilities in their local area.

We gave ourselves a short history lesson looking at how the separation of duties between the old district and regional councils, from the seventies to the mid-nineties,  had led to progressively less contact between workers and managers in leisure and recreation and youth and community services. Partnership working was not for the faint hearted at this time. Lack of collaboration led to duplication and a silo mentality. It also spawned two tier letting systems within public buildings and much confusion for the organisations and individual users of services.

Later on and most recently we have seen the advent of new build PFI or PPP schools and community facilities. The disgrace this time around is that in most instances the cost of using these superb facilities is prohibitive and crippling for local groups. My members every so often come along with tales of groups folding or being forced to use ramshackle premises due to cost. This problem even affects local authority Community Learning and Development who in many instances are charged internally for the use of what were previously their own buildings. PFI was at the time hailed as the answer to crumbling facilities and dilapidated school buildings but the legacy is now one that is impacting on this younger generation and the community at large.

These are the “white elephants in the room” and discussions need to take place with the contractors, central and local government to find a way to allow these magnificent facilities to be better used for the benefit of all. Thousands of volunteers give of their time to run youth and community organisations and sports and arts activities and they are passionate about what they do. Unfortunately they spend much of their time organising bag packing at supermarkets and selling scratch cards and bingo books in order to afford the high costs of renting community premises. To build community capacity and cohesion we need to support local services and local groups.

There are many challenges facing the sector but we have been tip toeing our way around this particular elephant in the room for too long. If we are serious about increasing young people’s participation in youth work, sport and healthy activities, it’s important community and educational facilities are there for public benefit first and foremost. A strategic review of both costs and availability is something Scottish Government in partnership with COSLA should seriously consider.

As for Youth Work and Sport and how we can do better… watch this space!

Jim Sweeney, Chief Executive, YouthLink Scotland