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It’s time to start taking young people seriously.

francesca

It should come as no surprise to anyone attentive to the media that the outlook for young people residing in the post-industrial Northern heartlands remains rather bleak, and continues to deteriorate. In the 30% most disadvantaged areas of Newcastle, it may appear as though the myriad and complex issues present pose an almost insurmountable challenge.

Areas of Newcastle such as Walker, Elswick, Kenton and Scotswood typically suffer from poverty of access, poverty of opportunity and poverty of inclusion.

In terms of education, in some areas, as many as 44.5% of residents have no formal qualifications whatsoever – and the removal of the Education Maintenance Allowance makes travel to Newcastle or Gateshead College an unrealistic option. Indeed, it would appear that provision of a dedicated transport system to such educational venues might go some way to remedying this.

While there are some locally-based training and employment opportunities, access to these relies largely on the existence of support networks that can direct people to opportunities – or at the very least, internet access, which large numbers of residents do not possess.

Such barriers trap young residents in patterns of welfare dependency or low-paid, low-skilled work with little possibility for progression – indeed, many areas are perpetually ignored by investors due to the weak spending power of residents.

‘Efforts to canvass the views of young people are useless

when proposals remain mired in the cage of rhetoric’

Where investment does exist, in Walker Riverside for example, the lucrative and sizeable oil and gas industries for the most part exclude local residents, preferring to source staff from outside the ward rather than investing in training programmes to make use of the human resource on their doorstep.

One solution could be to compel businesses to commit a certain level of local investment in employment-generation if they are to establish themselves within an area – an approach which has been tested and applied to some hotels in central Newcastle. While business deregulation and the onslaught of zero hour contracts and temporary and unsecured employment continues apace in Newcastle (also allowing government to skew figures and claim that employment is rising), encouraging and incentivising businesses to pledge themselves to responsible business charters is a step in the right direction.

Youth services were comparatively scarce before the cuts in areas of low investment and high deprivation, but their reduction (or in some cases complete withdrawal) has created a vacuum which an overstretched and under-resourced public and third sector are expected to fill. One way to ameliorate this situation would be for well-resourced, often private, organisations to adapt their centrist approach and commit resources to activities within challenged neighbourhoods – making use of local venues and delivered in response to local need.

The removal or reduction of services and opportunities important to young people marginalises them further and leads to feelings of dissociation or downright exclusion from the decision-making process. There has been little effort to engage young people in policy decisions and indeed, the singular effort to engage Newcastle’s young people through the Youth Council report in 2013 does not appear to have catalyzed much meaningful development.

Whilst it is appreciated that plans to, for example, reduce the appeal of Newcastle’s night-time economy for underage young people, may demand a greater time investment, simple suggested tweaks such as persuading schools to introduce budgeting lessons into the school curriculum do not seem to have been implemented in a coordinated way. Efforts to canvass the views of young people are useless when proposals remain mired in the cage of rhetoric.

Talking is easier than doing. Newcastle needs a cross-sector, skills and knowledge-sharing approach to challenges that retain young people at the centre of discourse throughout. By working with young people at all levels of the policy process, ownership remains with them and they become active participants in its success. This requires a behaviour shift in the policymaking apparatus to trust young people and prioritise their needs over streamlined decision-making and implementation processes.

The twin threats of budget cuts and private sector deregulation are unlikely to subside within the next five years. What we can do is challenge the prevailing attitude of top-down decision-making and service delivery that excludes areas outside of the city centre and prioritises inward investment above all else. This requires sustained and significant effort from all three sectors – working together, rather than in isolation. Furthermore, if local and national government is truly committed to removing the barriers that disadvantaged young people face, then it’s time to start treating their input as a foundation for tangible and far-reaching action rather than a bureaucratic box-ticking exercise.

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