Young people have clearly been identified as an ‘easy target’ for the next round of welfare cuts and phrases like the “something for nothing’ youth culture” make easy headlines. But labelling young people as feckless is maybe a rather convenient way of diverting attention away from our collective failure in preparing young people for independent adulthood. The “something” in that equation is not working, particularly for those young people whose journey to adulthood has been disrupted.
Foyers know a thing or two about how you create and sustain a ‘something for something’ deal with young people. The contract that lies at the heart of the Foyer was seen as both radical and controversial when Foyers were developing in response to the recession in the 1990s. It places a responsibility on the young person to engage with what the Foyer has to offer but, crucially, it also requires the Foyer to tailor a package of support that works for each individual young person. and work the Foyer Federation has done with young people tells us that, if that relationship breaks down, it’s more likely to be because the ‘offer’ isn’t appropriate than the young person unwilling to engage. This means it’s vital to be honest when that offer is not working. And at a time of high youth unemployment and reducing public expenditure, we do have to do things differently.
So let’s begin to create a ‘something for something’ youth culture by:-
* focusing on what young people can do and be rather than labelling them by what they are ‘not’ e.g. NEET
* freeing up those who work with young people to release young people’s potential – perversely the current cuts are in danger of squeezing the ‘foyerness’ out of some Foyers
* making sure young people have housing options that allow them to move into learning, apprenticeships and work as they get their lives back on track
So, instead of blaming young people, let’s take responsibility, as adults, for our collective failure and create a genuine ‘something for something’ deal that unlocks the talent and potential in ALL our young people.
[Reflections after participating in a discussion on Tackling the 'something for nothing' youth culture at the 2012 Conservative Conference in Birmingham]