This month we sent greetings from Scotland’s youth work sector to those seeking election to Westminster and launched our 5 key aims in a hustings with a difference in Glasgow. 5 politicians, 5 young people, the vibrant and savvy Mac Twins, all in the style of BBC The Voice.
The onset of an election campaign for Westminster has given the Youth Work Sector a welcome opportunity to remind politicians of the importance of supporting our young people in their transition to adulthood in ways not tied to formal schooling. However, it has also brought to the fore the current economic and social plight of our young people, not just in Scotland but right across the UK.
In our Westminster Manifesto we call on the next UK Government to make a few simple changes, which will go some way to offering our young people more equality of opportunity. Age discrimination needs to be removed from the minimum wage, equal pay for equal work. Votes at 16 must become a reality right across the UK for every election.
In terms of lasting social capital, offer tax breaks for businesses that encourage and facilitate their staff to volunteer. All young people should have access to free wifi in their communities so the opportunities that come with our new digital era do not leave some of them behind. The Youth Work Sector works with over half of all young people in Scotland and the message to not only Holyrood but to Westminster is, ensure sustainable, long-term funding. As politicians you seek a society where all young people have equality, it cannot be achieved without our sector, as youth work is often the way young people change their lives for the better.
The UK Government still use a deficit model where young people are a problem to be fixed rather than an asset to be developed. Rather than collaborate and work with young people, in many instances they want to do things to them in measured dollops and keep society ‘safe’.
With regard to their support for both young people and those who work with them in youth work situations both voluntary and local authority provided, the coalition has been guilty of knowing the ‘cost of everything and the value of nothing’. England, in particular, has become a scene of devastation, with savage cuts, alongside a contract culture based on the false God of short term outcomes. As a result the youth work infrastructure, choice and capacity has crumbled. The losers are young people themselves, who have been demonised, preached at and generally been blamed for many of society’s ills, but in the long-term society loses.
Our Holyrood politicians have gone some way to recognise that Youth Work changes lives and that our sector is a critical part of the equation in helping young people’s transition to adulthood, and especially for those whom formal education has failed them.
This election has been dominated by the economic argument around whether to continue down the path of further austerity. I would say one thing to all of those who seek a place at Westminster. We must see change rather than a move towards further austerity. We cannot allow more children and young people to be pushed into poverty. We cannot support council services being cut further. And we cannot support any economic agenda that would, by default, push back our shared ambition for a truly equal society for all our young people, to be able to realise their potential.
Read the manifesto here: http://tinyurl.com/p6ckchz
Jim Sweeney, CEO, YouthLink Scotland, the national agency for youth work