On January 29th, a Unite Youth Dublin activist attended The National Youth Strategy – Stakeholder Consultation Event. This event was to introduce the Better Outcomes: Brighter Futures National Policy Framework, which is the first overarching national policy framework for children and young people, developed and lead by the minister for Children and Youth Affairs. An overview of this can be found here.
The first half of the day was a discussion on this new framework, its impacts, focus, how it will be implemented and its reporting structures for monitoring purposes. While the program is laudable in its aspirations, there is a very clear line being drawn at the provision of new services and the absolute need to be cost effective. Some of the findings discussed around youth issues were more that a little disturbing. In some areas; one in four youths are unemployed, one in five experience serious deprivation and 58% of those in care nationally are aged 10-17 years old. These problems are deeply rooted societal ones – created through sustained inter-generational poverty in deprived areas and the services in place are simply not enough to deal with them no matter how they are overhauled or moved around.
The second half delved into the consultation process with young people and the results of an online survey which 1511 respondents had completed by the 22nd of January 2015. In this survey; the average age of responder was 17, the gender balance was virtually equal and a reasonable cross section of samples were collected from the around the country. The employment status of the respondents can be observed in the graph below:
- Safe and Protected from Harm
- Active and Healthy, Physical and Mental Well-being
- Achieving Full Potential in all Areas of Learning and Development
- Connected, Respected and Contributing to Their World
- Economic Security and Opportunity
However this runs a little contrary to the following six priority areas (chosen from a list of 16) identified by the responders:
- Good Mental Health1
- Learning and Studying
- Positive Self-Image
- Relationships and Sexuality2
- Access to Services
This could be down to the type of language that was used in the two questions ie. Economic Security sounds far less immediate than Jobs. Whatever the reason, there is a very clear overlap between four of these priorities.
Positive self-image, good mental health and learning possibilities are all linked to decent employment through; economic independence, sense of financial and job security, being valued in the workplace, being part of a team, the option to broaden skill set through in house training, opportunities for advancement and so on.
But the responsibility for this seems to be in the hands of another program, with Better Outcomes providing assistance – The Youth Guarantee. This Youth Guarantee focuses on pushing unemployed youth into training programs and intern-ships like JobBridge and JobPath and uses the threat of sanctions to ensure compliance. As union researchers have continuously outlined, the use of these “Labour Activation Schemes” has caused untold hardship for young people across the UK and Ireland already and is a leading contributor to the creation of a working environment where employees are not even guaranteed the basic respect of a minimum wage and precarious positions are standard.
There it is, the final nail in the coffin, after all the research, consultations, reporting and implementation plans, this program will ultimately fail at combating youth deprivation, youth unemployment or stem the flow of youth fleeing the country. It will be relying on failing schemes that exploit the unemployed, devalues workers and work as well as support the use a three tier minimum wage system that unjustly penalises those entering the workforce for the first time as well as those returning. This coupled with the programs inability to increase funding or expand services into more rural areas makes yet another box checking exercise more worried about the appearance of caring that actual investment in the young population. The most upsetting part is because of all the research done, they know exactly how, where and who this failure is going to hit hardest.
1 Good Mental Health in the survey setting is a very broad term encompassing a sense of self worth, ability to deal with stress and setbacks in a healthy way, a general sense of well being and happiness.
2 The importance of Relationships and Sexuality as a category has jumped from 9th place in other results to 5th, this can be attributed to the anonymity of this survey