Youth sector warns against labelling young people as 'lost causes'

By Laura McCardle

| 06 January 2014

Youth charities have expressed dismay over recent coverage of the plight of the UK's young people, and called for a more positive focus on what the next generation has to offer.

Youth sector leaders are encouraging a positive approach to working with young people

Rosie Ferguson, chief executive of London Youth, was among senior figures who decided to speak out after The Prince’s Trust’s annual Youth Index, published last week, revealed that a third of young people who have been out of work for a long time have contemplated suicide.

While accepting the findings of the report, she hit out at how young people were being portrayed in the media as a result and urged more positive conversations about young people and what they have to offer.

Ferguson said: "The situation facing young people looking for work at the moment is really tough, and for many who don't have the right support and opportunity it can feel pretty hopeless.

"I'm pleased that The Prince's Trust have highlighted this and opened a debate. It is particularly important that they have highlighted the role that mental health issues play in perpetuating young people's unemployed status.

"Yet, despite recognising the picture that was painted by the data, I was frustrated by the way this was being reported, because there is a risk that young people are seen as lost causes if the debate gets framed in this way.

"We need to raise awareness of the challenges facing young people but by reporting like this we risk perpetuating stereotypes of young people to mainstream audiences and making more young people feel even more isolated and hopeless."

Ferguson's views were echoed by Jane Slowey, chief executive of The Foyer Federation. “We all know that unemployment causes a lack of confidence but I would prefer not to focus on telling young people that’s how you feel when you’re unemployed", said Slowey.

“As a society we label young people and the word ‘unemployed’ labels people as something that they’re not – you’re telling them that you’re not valuing them or recognising the things about them that are positive.”

Alex Curling, assistant director at the UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES), believes employers can do more to support unemployed young people.

She said: “There are lots of myths around employing young people – that they are unable or unwilling to work; they can’t speak or write properly; that there is a lot of paperwork and administration involved.

“We conduct the world’s largest survey of employers and we know from that that none of these are true.

“Providing apprenticeships, internships, work experience placements or careers talks are all valuable ways of making sure young people are given the opportunities they need to get a job.”

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