More than a Hunch?

Jamie Audsley argues London Youth’s new publication Hunch points the way to a Plan B for young people and one that all progressives should get behind.

Jamie Audsley argues London Youth’s new publication Hunch (pdf) points the way to a Plan B for young people and one that all progressives should get behind.

Something has been growing and bubbling up throughout society – it’s the sense that the way we’ve been running things just can’t go on, that a business as usual approach just won’t cut it anymore. And if we’ve responded by shining a light on a Plan B for a sustainable economy, where is our plan B for the way we work with and develop young people?

That’s where Hunch, London Youth’s vision for youth in post austerity Britain weighs in with a great contribution.

The Government’s response to the August 2011 riots has largely been to crack down but rather than tackling present problems in isolation Hunch makes a timely call for a change of direction, asking how programmes and policy can develop young people’s social knowledge and networks, their all-round capabilities and character and self-confidence.

London Youth’s learning is more than a hunch. It is based on the evaluation of their DFE funded Positive Change programme which worked with almost 2000 young people across the capital to reduce youth violence from 2009-2011.

Some statistics from their publication outline the problems:

We spend 11 times more locking young people up that we do on preventing youth crime and yet 74 per cent of young people leaving custody re-offend within a year.

• There are currently almost a million 18-25 year olds in the UK unemployed and 54 per cent of employers say that those who they do employ do not have appropriate self-management skills to be effective in the workplace.

• Social and emotional skills are more important in determining success than they were 50 years ago.

• Schools and formal education have a role to play but we should remember young people spend less that 15 per cent of their waking hours in formal education.

Business as usual, in the last decade, has largely been one of top down targeted intervention resulting in money and time being thrown at each of these problems individually and often failing to address root causes or provide long term solutions.

London Youth’s challenge to all of us is to remember what we’ve always known intuitively (hence the “Hunch”): That young people will thrive if they can build relationships with trusted adults, be part of a positive peer group, access a range of opportunities that help them find something they are good at and which offer a chance to take on responsibility and leadership.

They call for investment and energy to be focused on developing character, resilience and individual agency (rather than tackling symptoms or risk factors – such as truanting or anti-social behaviour). This investment should ensure that where young people are growing up in communities with lower social agency, ways of stimulating youth work and embedding it for the long term are achieved.

It’s also an opportunity for us all because youth work doesn’t only need to happen in formal youth club settings, it needs to be part of the shift in our national mindset about the way we as a country want to interact with our young people.

A great example of this shift is a recent programme called VIY – Volunteer it Yourself. London Youth worked with Wickes and Pimlico Plumbers to support young people to volunteer alongside local tradespeople to renovate Streatham Youth and Community Centre.

Young people gained practical skills and accreditation, the youth club got a makeover and the roofers and decorators acted as informal youth workers. Through this young people were supported to understand the realities of work, navigate the boundaries of professional conversation and lead by organising a celebratory football match.

At its heart London Youth’s call is not about increasing funding in the old ways it’s a call to all of us to remember when we were young, refocus on what young people need to develop into good and effective citizens, take responsibility and put these ideas into practice.

My hunch is that this will work.

See also:

IDS jumped the gun: Gangs had nothing to do with the riots – Ben Mitchell, November 10th 2011

The devastating crisis hitting Britain’s young people – Rory Weal, November 9th 2011

Unemployment hits 17-year high – record number of young people out of work – Shamik Das, October 12th 2011

Fees, cuts… Is this what Cameron means by “giving young people back their future”? – Shamik Das, September 14th 2011

We need to make sure all young people know the true facts about higher education – Simon Hughes MP, June 28th 2011

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