Can the new government compete with Fortnite?

Graham Duxbury
Friday, August 2, 2019

The ministerial merry-go-round has come to a stop again with a raft of new faces pledging to bring fresh thinking to some longstanding problems. A new children's minister will immediately come under pressure to resolve the SEND (special educational needs and disabilities) funding crisis and a new civil society minister will be urged to follow through on the commitments made by her predecessor around a Youth Charter.

Of course for most young people the names Kemi Badenoch MP and Baroness Diana Barran will mean nothing - unlike the names Aqua and Nyhrox, the surprise winners of the duos competition at the recent Fortnite World Cup event in New York. Which of these two partnerships will have the biggest impact on the aspirations and life chances of young people is an interesting - and open - question.

In my household at least, teenage ‘pro-gamers' seem to be supplanting YouTube vloggers, X Factor wannabes and even young Premier League footballers as role models. On the one hand, the achievements of a couple of rank outsiders beating off opposition from much better-resourced teams at the World Cup provided a useful life lesson. On the other, the fact that this achievement was the result of eight-hours a day of gaming practice is clearly much more problematic.

The school holidays bring these challenges into much greater focus - and underscore the inequalities in our society. At one end of the spectrum, parents are desperately trying to motivate children to open the blinds and experience the real world beyond their screens. At the other end, families living in appalling poverty, excluded from paid-for activities and often lacking in confidence and contacts face six long weeks struggling for entertainment.

This is a key element of the challenge our new ministerial duo needs to address - what offer are we making to young people that can compete with the excitement of virtual worlds but is accessible enough to transcend income brackets?   Many young people are currently enjoying their time on the National Citizen Service (NCS) programme, which undoubtedly offers excitement and stimulation, but this kind of immersive experience is not for everyone, even if we could afford it. 

‘Once in a lifetime' opportunities like NCS need to be complemented by ‘once a week' provision that helps young people gradually build their resilience and networks and connect with their community and the wider environment. 

The recent parliamentary debate on youth services highlighted a 60 per cent spending reduction by local authorities, compounded by reductions in grant funding to youth-focused charities. As the new Prime Minister tours the country pledging to turn around the fortunes of ‘left-behind areas' he would do well to realise that in many cases those most left behind are the young. 

Graham Duxbury is chief executive of Groundwork