Youth Charter pending?  Youth Minister overdue!

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

Following the ‘Serious Youth Violence Summit’ in early April 2019, 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 Government repeated its commitment to “giving young people a strong* voice on issues they care about” (first set out in last years Civil Society Strategy, DCMS). Sports and Civil Society Minister [with responsibility for that departments youth policy but its a stretch to call her the Government’s Youth Minister] Mims Davies MP promised ‘“We’re determined to support young people in reaching their full potential. This charter will set out how*.” [*my italics] This was promptly followed up with a rare meeting in No 10 by a coalition of sector leaders, who had also published a joint-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. The National Youth Agency, one of the youth coalition leaders, clearly set out its position in a prelude to the joint statement ‘A promise from the Nation to young people | In support of Youth Work’.

I suspect that each stakeholder will want the Charter to reflect their priorities, and whilst its a work in progress that allows everyone to set out their stall and be positive about their expectations, not least young people themselves, the Government will doubtless ensure that the final version is worded carefully to distinguish between what is wished for and who is responsible for delivery. We can all be optimistic at the start of a journey but lets see what emerges – whether it has a process of consultation – and whether its more that aspirational.

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 top table, the Cabinet table, with departments pitching for substantial investment from the next spending review in youth (local government, health, employment, housing transport, justice, education, benefits…not just the scraps and windfalls to DCMS themes of voluntary citizenship participation. The current home of youth policy at the Office for Civil Society is too limiting, in terms of its resources, budget, status, reach and vision.

The APPG Youth Affairs Inquiry into Youth Work (National Youth Agency 2019), the LGA’s Bright Futures (2018) report, Unite the Union’s Youth Work Professionals Valued (2017) and British Youth Council General Election Manifestos (e.g. 2015), have all called for a more senior, or exclusive Youth Minister to lead on “Youth” acknowledging the absurdity of the workload of the previous Minister for Sport and Civil Society, Tracey Crouch MP. Something that Twenty-five cross-party MPs pointed out in a open-letter to the PM when her 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 will 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” No – this is not part of the MPs letter, nor is it a visionary insight from a Conservative or Labour rising star seeking to influence an election manifesto (though it could be either) but from a perceptive national leader of the Young Conservatives back in 1971! (Roger Boaden). Another Conservative and champion of youth-voice, the late Andrew Rowe MP, speaking decades before he helped to establish the UK Youth Parliament, also 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 [he could now add ‘with them’]. We ignore them at the peril of never again being able to form a majority Government”. We need to hear contemporary politicians taking the issue of “youth” (status, policy and electorate) just as seriously as their predecessors, and embrace the opportunities to do something about it as they contemplate another change of party Leaders and Government.

Will the current 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 they address the promise to review guidance to local authorities on youth service provision? Will they be the prelude and catalyst for Government (the next one?) to reassess its ministerial roles and departmental budgets to take it forward?
The coming months could see a lot of changes and opportunities. Youth Charter pending, Youth Minister required. Its time. Will these voices be loud enough to be heard”
James Cathcart

Director ‘Young Voices Heard’ @YVH_YouthVoice

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