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Is Youth Work in Danger of Forgetting About Non-16-18s?

In this week’s blog, Charlee Bewsher from Youth Work Unit Yorkshire & Humber explores how cuts to services have affected delivery to under-16s and over-18s and examines whether not reducing the voting age to 16+ in England and Wales will be detrimental.

Recently, Rob Wilson – Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office – expressed his disappointment that local authorities choose to make cuts in their youth service provision. While the Government is investing more than £1 billion in NCS and additional monies in the wider youth sector through programmes such as the British Youth Council and Step up to Serve, this doesn’t include the increased investment in mental health services for young people, and the innovative ways mental health services are being developed to deliver creative, flexible responses.

It is great that there is so much central Government funding for young people, they after all deserve services now, not sometime in the future that most people think young people are yearning for, they have to get there first. How often have we heard the phrase ‘young people are our future’, sometimes missing the point they need services now to enable that future to be full of choices.  Those services include opportunities to participate in residentials and community social action projects, it’s just a shame that some feel they have to wait till they are 16 to do so, when some young people are clearly wanting to make a difference or would benefit from such an opportunity at an early age or even later in life, if their 16th year was impacted upon by circumstance. Fortunately, the British Youth Council (including UK Youth Parliament) and Step up to Serve promote a range of opportunities for children and young people (10 – 25) throughout the year.

But this brings me back to local authorities, who also provide opportunities throughout the year for young people to be part of social action projects, both internally and through partnership work and/or funding to local voluntary organisations.  Not just youth councils / forums / parliaments / child in care councils, but groups campaigning to raise awareness of issues, or supported to be active in their local communities. The Northern Powerhouse project is but one example, working with young people from the Yorkshire & Humber and North West regions to not only raise awareness of devolution and what it may mean for services for young people but also trying to meet with decision and policy makers to ensure the needs of young people are not forgotten.

But what of those young people who can’t (for personal circumstances) or don’t want to ‘make a difference’? They just want to meet and socialise, have fun, just like the adults in their lives. We, the adults, don’t all choose to volunteer every week, so we can’t expect young people to. These young people still need services and opportunities to meet their needs. So yes, less money is being spent, statistics don’t lie and it would be great if more money was available to meet the needs and interests of all young people… But youth workers, in both the statutory and voluntary sector, are still out there doing what they do best: working alongside young people in their communities, and enabling them to make positive choices about their lives now, with only one eye squinting at the future.

Votes at 16

Young people aged 16 and 17 in Scotland will be able to vote in their local and parliamentary elections while young people in the rest of the UK can’t.  Your postcode decides if you have a voice or not.  But your postcode also decides so much more; what services you get, if you have access to free public transport or any public transport, if you can receive certain medical interventions, how much funding your school gets, how much insurance will cost. The list is endless.  As a nation we are going to the polls shortly to decide if we should stay or leave the European Union, but we’re not allowing those who statistically will live with the consequences longer to have a say.

And I’m not sure this decision can be justified by believing young people won’t be very informed, as from news coverage most people don’t feel very informed. I could extend this argument to the elections of Police and Crime Commissioners – it will be interesting to see what the turnout is this year compared to the last round of elections with a total turnout of 15.1% nationally.

Do we think turnout will improve for the newly elected Mayors that are being introduced across the county? In the North young people are interested in devolution as evidenced in the many events they are organising on the subject, but are adults interested in listening to them? I hope so as they will be eligible to vote by the time it’s all sorted out! We have an opportunity, through lowering the voting age to 16, to really educate young people and introduce a habit of voting. When I was at school, we were asked if we had voted and reminded to do it on the way home, actively encouraged and made to feel it was something that adults did. It was a responsibility and a privilege, one that was not extended across the world, so we must grasp it. My teachers took the time to make sure we knew what to expect at the polling station, so there could be no excuses of not knowing how to vote. National Ballots such as Make your Mark, which got nearly 1 million votes last year, demonstrates that young people are interested and do want a say.

Charlee Bewsher, Youth Work Unit – Yorkshire & Humber

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