YWN Article: Too Many Youth Policies To Mention

28 April 2010 — 1 Comment

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The following is a short article I wrote that was published in Youth Work Now Magazine (A supplement of Children & Young People Now) recently.

Too Many Youth Policies To Mention
My usual response when an election draws near and all the promised policies get trotted out is to roll my eyes and try hard to filter out the cross-party bickering.

It’s not that I’m disinterested in what the various parties are proposing; it’s more that I dislike the approach. Too often, political parties define themselves by their differences from each other on key issues rather than their commitment to making the world a better place.

This time around there seems to be a lot more at stake for those working with young people, so I’ve been paying more attention to the promises being made. And it seems the politicians are becoming more creative with their pledges.

Eighteen months ago, I attended a conference where an advisor to the Conservative Party explained its plan for a compulsory National Citizen Service for young people. The scheme, a flagship project aimed at 16-year-olds, was then a six-week form of community service with a residential and team building activities thrown in at the beginning. It has now become a shorter three-week programme, involving a residential, a local project, and some community work over a longer period.

Many in the audience at that gathering felt the money could be better spent with local youth organisations that already do this type of project, while others questioned the very idea of enforced “voluntary” community work.

Meanwhile the Liberal Democrats have produced Free To Be Young, a great manifesto with 57 party commitments aimed at improving life for the young. It’s hard to disagree with many of the statements, yet unfortunately I find it almost impossible to see how they could be realistically achieved. An idea like “encouraging parents to drink responsibly” is a case in point.

Labou,r on the other hand, are selling world-changing ideas such as giving every 11 to 14-year-old hands-on cooking lessons to help reduce childhood obesity. To be fair, they are also focused on getting young people back on track by promising a job, training or work placement to those not in education, employment or training (NEET) longer than six months.

But what we really need is a renewed commitment to supporting and investing in young people and local youth services. It’s encouraging that the Lib Dems have moved towards accepting the youth work union Unite’s challenge for a statutory youth service. This would protect youth work from future funding cuts, but it must support voluntary services as well as those run by local authorities.

We also need a government that actively views young people as partners in democracy and involves them in decision-making. Policies such as lowering the voting age to 16 are a good example, but there is more that could be done.

I’m looking for a party that understands the power of engaging with young people and investing in their future, not one that just pays them lip-service.

You can view all my Youth Work Now articles here.

Jon

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I am a qualified youth worker, writer and consultant based in Littlehampton, UK. I've worked in the voluntary youth sector for over 12 years, am married to Kirsty and we have two daughters named Hope and Eloise. Check out 'Journeying Together: Growing Youth Work and Youth Workers in Local Communities' and read my opening chapter.

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