Can you remember when you were in the full flush of youth with all those hopes and expectations of a useful and rewarding life ahead of you? You were probably full of enthusiasm and optimism of making your way in the world and of being able to achieve far more than was ever possible for your parents’ generation. Do you often think now ,as I do ,about how we are in danger of failing our young people by not providing them with the same life chances that we were so fortunate to have available to us? What a waste of potential and what an indictment on what our generation has achieved!
Our present economic woes seem to be having a disproportionate impact not just on the poor and needy but worryingly on our young people. Just reflect on some of these appalling facts that are blighting the lives of young people today.
-youth unemployment stands at more than 1 million with 1 in 5 young people 16-24 out of work-the highest levels since 1992.
-by April 2012 £200m of cuts will have been made to youth services nationally. Whole services have gone from areas as diverse as rural Norfolk to inner city Haringey.
-spending on services for young people has fallen by 12.3% in the past year to just over £100 per young person and is expected to fall by a further 13% in real terms in the years to 2015
-20% of all youth centres will have closed by March 2012.
-10% of schools have cut; arts, music and sports provision and 26% have closed or reduced extended services such as after school clubs. 15 outdoor education centres have been closed in the UK in the last 12 months with a further 1 in 3 facing closure due to government cuts to local authority funding.
-free swimming for the under 16s has gone along with many sports and arts development programmes for young people.
-capital investment in the overhaul of our ageing stock of culture and leisure facilities has been reigned back including the abandonment of the marvellous Building Schools for the Future programme where 11% of funds went on state of the art sports, leisure and cultural facilities that benefit whole communities but especially young people.
-university fees have rocketed and cuts to Education Maintenance Allowance will potentially discourage a whole generation of disadvantaged young people from staying in education and opening new horizons and opportunities for them.
What a lethal and dispiriting cocktail for all young people to swallow especially as they played no part in the profligacy of the financial sector and now find themselves suffering ‘death by a thousand cuts’! If the deficit is to be overturned in 5 years with 78% clawed back in cuts and just 22% in increased tax , as the Coalition plans, it looks inevitable that young people as key recipients of public services will face further erosion of their aspirations and life chances.
Those of us who have worked with young people all our lives know that access to life enhancing and transforming opportunities in and out of school not only makes young people feel good about themselves and provides fun and enjoyment but also helps to create good responsible citizens that can lead healthy, happy, safe and successful lives. If young peoples support was as important to politicians as the grey [or even ‘silverlink’ vote !] perhaps policies and actions would be a whole lot different. It is time we spoke up for them before they are short changed still further so here are three new policy initiatives for starters though we may have to wait a while for the last two!
1] build in a stronger compulsory voice for children and young people themselves , nationally and locally, for changes to any services that impact on their lives directly. Current consultation mechanisms that are part of the Children Act merely pay lip service to the existence of 14 million under 18s in the UK.
2] Government should big up on corporate social responsibility as part of its ‘big society’ ambitions. In recognition of recent taxpayer support of the financial sector and the generous corporate tax avoidance allowed for companies such as Vodaphone and Goldman Sachs [£16 billion just for those two of the estimated £95 billion tolerated every year by HMRC in a list that includes RBS/Nat West, Barclays, Tesco, HSBC and Lloyds/Halifax.] government should demand something back. Philanthropy, sponsorship, volunteering and mentoring directed to benefit children and young people could bring a sense of social responsibility to many whose careers , though financially very rewarding ,probably lack a social purpose !
3] persuade the Queen and Prince Charles ,as part of the Civil List settlement and as further proof to the 14 million under 18s that we are’ all in this together’, to divert to the excellent Prince’s Trust for young people the £1.2m agricultural subsidy they receive from the EU each year. If they could also persuade their cousin and Britain’s richest man, the Duke of Westminster to donate his agricultural subsidy to the same cause the sum raised each year for young people would reach £2m! I suggest this as neither an anti –royalist or anti –European!