The Youth Matters green paper drew an unprecedented level of response with over 19,000 young people sending in their comments together with 1,000 organisations. This wealth of interest flies in the face of the apathy label sometimes placed on young people and bodes well for the government’s plans for youth to be involved in implementing the proposals.
Last week ministers published comments on these responses and provided more details on the plans in Youth Matters: Next Steps.
Opportunity cards topped up with credit that can be spent on activities were a key part of the proposals. The original plan to deny activities to young people who misbehave was met with fierce criticism from many campaigners.
Although the government argues this still may be necessary, it has moved to a less hardline position. Last week’s document recognises that badly behaving young people could be helped by participating in positive activities and to take money away from them at this time could marginalise and demotivate them further. It adds that ministers will work with young people and professionals to achieve the “right balance” while being consistent with its plans to tackle antisocial behaviour.
Sarah Brown, head of external communications at young people’s charity YMCA England, says ministers have changed their stance slightly. “The government is bringing in a bit more of the carrot and a little bit less of the stick,” she says.
She adds that YMCA England is against docking the cards because the young people needing the most help engaging with activities are often those who hang around on the streets and are most likely to commit antisocial behaviour.
Senior policy officer at young people’s charity Rainer, Chris Chaston, agrees that “on the surface” the government seems to be taking less of a hard line. He says there is a need to look at “more intelligent” ways of tackling antisocial behaviour than denying young people access to activities. “The young people who are hard to reach are already marginalised and if you take away the incentives to engage them you run the risk of marginalising them further,” he says.
The government originally proposed putting around £12 a month on the cards for disadvantaged 13-16 year olds but some responses to the consultation labelled this as too low. In response it is piloting two different amounts with some young people being given £12 but others getting £25.
Chaston said he welcomed the higher amount and added that the pilots would show how effective the cards would be.
Make Space, a campaign for contemporary clubs for young people run by children’s charity 4Children, welcomes the opportunity cards but argues they are pointless unless there are actually activities available.
“Make Space is in favour of the opportunity cards as a way of offering young people access to services they can influence and determine but stresses their limitations unless the cards are part of a clear long-term strategy. Young people consistently tell us there is not enough to do or places to go in their area. Investment in growing these services will also be needed if young people are to make meaningful use of their money,” says Anne Longfield, chief executive of 4Children, speaking on behalf of Make Space.
The total amount of funding available for the youth green paper’s reforms is as of yet unclear and will be revealed in the budget next week. However, the government’s response document pledges that the new statutory duty on councils to provide positive activities for young people contained in the plans will not introduce any “unfunded burdens” for local authorities. Chaston says this is to be welcomed.
Youth Matters says that responsibility for commissioning information advice and guidance services and the funding that goes with it will be devolved from Connexions to local authorities working through children’s trusts, schools and colleges. It also states that where schools and colleges believe existing information, advice and guidance provision is poor they will have the right to commission services directly.
Some respondents to the consultation raised concerns that these proposals risk creating a fragmented service where it would be harder to guarantee impartial information advice and guidance.
Brown says this is not a concern shared by the YMCA as long as information advice and guidance services are made available in a number of ways, such as through a school or at a Connexions drop in service. “We wouldn’t be worried provided that there is enough choice available for young people an if there is any bias it’s up front,” she says.
It is important that services are provided in ways apart from through schools and colleges in order to reach young people who are not in education, says Brown.
The Youth Matters proposals have received a positive reception from the social care sector overall but while it is still unclear how much money is going to be behind them it is a cautious one. The real amount youth matters to ministers will become clear next week when this is revealed by the budget.
Download Youth Matters: Next Steps