Youth Contract – Time for Change

By Linda Jack

| 29 July 2013

A number of related CYP Now articles have caught my eye over the last week or so – all related to the thorny issue of youth unemployment.  As I reflected in my last post, even Nick Clegg and Danny Alexander recognise that the government is having little success, leading to a commitment within their forthcoming Liberal Democrat economy motion to “Take radical action to tackle stubbornly high youth unemployment by developing a comprehensive strategy for 16- to 24-year-olds ensuring that all young people have access to the skills, advice and opportunities necessary to find sustainable employment.” So it seems to me that it may well be an idea to begin to think what exactly that “radical action” may be. CYP Now has offered a few pointers.

Liberal Democrats are, and always have been, committed to the idea of localism. Okay, there are dangers with the potential for a “postcode lottery”, but generally, people have a much better grasp at a local level of how to tackle the problems in their area. So the news, reported by CYP Now last week that where the Youth Contract is devolved to local councils it is more successful by a ratio of 2:1 in getting young people into work, should give the government pause for thought. It is particularly credit worthy that all these successful councils are in the north where unemployment is notoriously high. Even where councils are collaborating it is notably not a “one size fits all” approach.

We also learned that the wage supplement element of the Youth Contract isn’t working, which lead to calls from a number of organisations for a rethink. What particularly struck me was the problem, identified by Labour, that there wasn’t enough joined-up thinking with regard to the relationship between schools and business and worries about the simultaneous decimation of the Connexions service. It is also clear to me, from talking to many in the sector, that the even more vicious decimation of the youth service across the country has undermined the effectiveness of the programme.

And then today we hear Vince Cable is urging young people to become entrepreneurs as a way to beat the recession. Hear hear Vince! But of course many young people will need much more than a start-up loan to get them going.

In terms of developing a radical new strategy I would urge that it is, first and foremost, underpinned with a set of principles:

  • Listen to everyone involved, especially young people.
  • Take a holistic approach to the problem – recognising there are many pieces to the jigsaw puzzle and focusing on just one or two will not be as effective as taking a whole-picture approach.
  • Understand and respect diversity.
  • Respect the fact that one size doesn’t fit all and that there is no silver bullet.
  • Relinquish power to the people who know what they are doing rather than be obsessed with holding everything at the centre.
  • Be prepared to act quickly if something isn’t working and change it.
  • Recognise that it is the relationship that is often the key to success, particularly when working with young people who have been unemployed for a long time.
  • Build on and reinvigorate the innate creativity of young people.

So it strikes me that maybe now is the time for a youth summit involving unemployed young people and those who work with them, to begin to thrash out the strategy Clegg and Alexander are calling for. Politicians and civil servants would be welcome to come and listen and learn – but apart from perhaps a few nice words to open proceedings, otherwise hold their peace.

Linda Jack is a member of the Parliamentary Policy Committee for Education, Young People and Families, and former member of the Federal Policy Committee

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