Youth Charter, minister?

James Cathcart
Friday, May 10, 2019

"Have the stars aligned, at last, to create the conditions for a meaningful dialogue between youth sector stakeholders and decision-makers in  government resulting in a higher profile for youth policy development and leadership in government?

Following the ‘Serious Youth Violence Summit' in early April, the government announced that it would be working with the youth sector in the coming months, to produce a Youth Charter that will "set out a vision for young people for the next generation and beyond".

The announcement repeated the government's commitment to "giving young people a strong voice on issues they care about" - first set out in last year's Civil Society Strategy.

The Youth Charter announcement included this promise from the civil society minister, Mims Davies MP: "We're determined to support young people in reaching their full potential. This charter will set out how."

This was promptly followed up with a visit to No10 by a coalition of sector leaders, who had also published a statement, not only welcoming the idea of a charter, but detailing their ambition to progress a broader agenda, not just on youth work services, but volunteering, education, health, justice, housing and benefits.

I hope the charter process, and the efforts of stakeholders working together, will not only highlight the role of youth voice but also elevate the status of youth policy to be a visible national government priority, at the Cabinet table, with departments pitching for substantial investment in youth, to the next Spending Review, not just the scraps and windfalls.

However, the current home of youth policy at the Office for Civil Society can be limiting, in terms of its resources, budget, status, reach and vision.

The APPG for youth affairs inquiry into youth work, the LGA's Bright Futures (2018) report, Unite the Union's Youth Work Professionals Valued (2017) and British Youth Council General Election Manifesto 2015, have all called for a more senior, or exclusive youth minister to lead on "youth" acknowledging the absurdity of workload of the previous minister for sport and civil society, Tracey Crouch MP. Something that 25 cross-party MPs pointed out in a open-letter to the PM when the post became vacant last year. This was an opportunity missed to review and separate out the role of youth minister.

"There is no reason why we cannot appoint a senior level Cabinet minister with full supportive powers to coordinate all aspects of government which directly affect young people… Unless such things become cabinet level decisions, there can never be sufficient priority given." - This is not a quote from a Conservative or Labour rising star seeking to influence an election manifesto (though it could be) but from a leader of the Young Conservatives back in 1971, Roger Boaden.

Another champion of youth voice, Andrew Rowe MP (Conservative), speaking decades before he helped to establish the UK Youth Parliament, said something that could apply to today's first-time GenZ voters: "Whether we like it or not this age-group is different... we must look at this group much more carefully and devise, and direct specific policies to, and at them. We ignore them at the peril of never again being able to form a majority government." - We need to hear contemporary politicians taking this just as seriously and embrace the opportunities to do something about it.

Will the talks produce a Youth Charter that is not just a wish-list of destinations? Will they result in a route-map and milestones to transformative change that the youth sector needs? Will it address the ongoing issue of coordination across national government departments and the national versus local government paradox? Will it be the prelude to a re-assessment of government ministerial roles and departmental budgets to take it forward?

The coming months will hopefully address these issues now that voices are being heard."

James Cathcart is director of Young Voices Heard @YVY_YouthVoice