Since the publication of the government green paper Youth Matters in 2005, councils have been striving to give 13- to 19-year-olds better access to local services.
Cambridgeshire Council, one of 10 local authorities working with the Youth Opportunity Fund to achieve this, is piloting a pre-paid cash card scheme which allows looked-after young people and those receiving free school meals to enjoy activities they might not have the resources or confidence to take part in, such as horse riding, dance lessons, snooker, cinema, bowling, and swimming.
Launched in April and backed by £960,000 from central government, the scheme, called g2g, is used by about 2,000 young people. Instead of paying service providers directly, or giving young people vouchers, the council has used Raphaels Bank to create the card system. Each card is loaded with £40 a month for the cardholder to spend on a broad range of educational and recreational activities.
Jill Tuck, Cambridgeshire’s cabinet member for children and young people’s services, says: “The pilots will test whether this approach gives young people more influence and choice over the activities they want to do, increases their participation in activities and ultimately, leads to improved school achievement and reduces crime and antisocial behaviour.”
According to project leader Simon Bates, finance was just one reason why young people weren’t already participating in these activities.
“We also thought there is a ‘wall in the mind’ that you must challenge. Young people on council estates are on the margins. They know how to respond in their own areas, but it’s a big problem for them to leave those areas,” he says.
The project started when Bates brought together a group of young people to act as a focus group, which then gave its feedback on designing the cards and the kinds of services they would like.
Seventeen-year-old Jade Horner, a student at Cambridge Regional College, was part of the development group and is now a card user: “I thought it was a good idea. It does help young people who have got less money. It can help them keep out of trouble and from hanging around on the street.”
Bates hopes that young people aged 17 and above could use the cards to pay for driving lessons. “It’s very difficult to get help for looked-after children who want to learn to drive,” he says.
This is certainly what Horner hopes to use her card for: “I’m looking forward to that because driving lessons can cost a bomb and a driving license could be important to me in work and at college.”
Initially setting up the pilot was met with some resistance for a couple of reasons. Critics thought it costly and believed the money would be better spent elsewhere.
“Some people said it could also be seen as a ‘poor card’ which would stigmatise the young people using it,” says Bates. “But what is more likely to be stigmatised – having a poor education, confidence or skills, or carrying a card?”
The scheme was set up on an opt-out basis to keep administration levels down: participants are told they will receive a card unless they chose to opt-out with a reply slip. The entitled young people then collect the card from a teacher, social worker or skills officer who explains how it works and helps them plan a few activities.
Activity providers have been welcoming. “A number wanted to be part of the scheme and none have said they have had any problems,” Bates says.
The scheme aims to improve young people’s confidence and engagement within school. Both the National Centre for Social Research and the National Foundation For Educational Research are assessing the pilot by interviewing the young people, teachers and social workers, and giving them questionnaires.
These studies will determine the best way forward for the scheme. It may become a broader card scheme, which would also entitle young people to travel and other services if the pilot proves the idea works in a simple, accessible way.
● For more information phone Simon Bates on 07884 490568 or visit the website