The past year has been a particularly tough one for the youth sector. Charities working with children and young people have come under fire following the closure of Kids Company and the difficult funding environment they operate in shows little sign of improving.
There are no easy answers for the sector. The global economy remains precarious, with the shadow of economic downturn in China hanging over stock and currency markets, and pushing oil prices down. As a result the UK Government remains pessimistic about growth prospects and committed to deficit reduction. Comprehensive statutory funding for youth services is fast being consigned to history and it is highly unlikely that we will see comparable levels of public investment return to the sector within the next ten years.
With this backdrop in mind, what should sector leaders be doing to preserve and enhance services for young people? First and foremost we must work together to agree priority areas and common goals. This will enable us to speak with one unified voice to influence policy and unlock new funding opportunities.
During the recent youth sector consultation led by UK Youth, NCVYS and Ambition there was much discussion about the challenges faced, but also a surprisingly high level of consensus around what the immediate priorities for the sector must be. We identified six main themes that came up repeatedly throughout discussions, written submissions and online feedback.
- Develop cross sector alliances to support agreed outcomes for young people
- Articulate the youth offer in a clear concise way that incorporates a shared vision for young people
- Demonstrate the positive impact of non formal education on young lives
- Identify which key player(s) will provide sector leadership and shape policy going forward
- Develop new business models to ensure the sector is sustainable
- Access new forms of funding
These findings indicate that there is common ground to be found between the youth sector and government. In addition to the above focus areas, government are also concerned with meeting a range of specific targets.
Additional Government objectives
- Increase NCS participation from 80,000 today to 60% of all 16 year olds by 2021 (approximately 900,000 participants) and engage more young people from rural, BME and disadvantaged communities (£1 billion investment)
- Increase participation in apprenticeships and improve take up of apprenticeships among BME communities by 20%
- Improve career advice and provide mentors for 25,000 young teenagers who are underachieving or at risk of dropping out (£70 million investment)
- 50% of all 10 to 20 year olds to be engaged in social action by 2020
- Commission trainers, teachers and youth workers to share and create character related materials for every school in the country
These government aims are to be applauded, but concerns remain around the channeling of funding away from other areas of youth work. The reasons for this concern are two fold; firstly the serious underfunding of open access youth engagement and non formal learning activities is depriving many young people from being able to access appropriate support in their local area when they need it, and secondly it is this early intervention activity that enables youth workers to identify young people in need of additional support and provides a pipeline of young people who are ready to participate in NCS, social action or take up apprenticeships.
Without a broader approach to investment, access to opportunities like mentoring, NCS and apprenticeships will remain the domain of young people from stable, supportive backgrounds. A lack of funding for wider youth services will directly undermine government efforts to hit ambitious targets around levels of take up, inclusion and diversity. This would be a hugely disappointing outcome. We cannot afford to miss this opportunity to up skill a generation, address inequality and provide a much-needed boost to community services through the double benefit model of Youth Social Action.
This impact can clearly be seen if we apply the ‘UK Youth’ Social Development Journey to the wider youth sector (see below). Youth workers have long recognised that young people need access to Social Engagement and Social Learning opportunities to develop a broad range of skills for life, before they are ready to get involved with Social Action or Social Leadership.
Many young people are fortunate enough to be aware of and acquire skills for life from their family and friends, or through extra curricular activities in school, but a significant number are not. Those who lack social capital or access to high quality wrap around provision are often unable to access the support they need to develop life skills and unaware of their importance. As a result they may fail to see the relevance of engaging in Social Action or taking up Social Leadership opportunities that will be of benefit to them in later life.
Social Engagement and Social Learning opportunities provided by the youth sector offer a vital introduction to life beyond academic learning, and enable young people to gain the skills they need for life, work and a better future. We must champion the importance of Social Engagement and Social Learning provision to ensure young people from all walks of life, not just a privileged few, can get onto the first rungs of the ladder to adulthood and embark on their own Social Development Journey.