On Friday 24th October the Young Foundation is launching a collaboration with Llamau in Wales to begin a a new movement. Ahead of the event, Frances Beecher, CEO of Llamau shares her thoughts on the challenges ahead and the need for greater collaboration.
It’s very hard to believe that we are out of the recession and everything is looking good – frankly I don’t believe it – I’m undecided whether it’s simply twisted statistics designed to fool us ahead of a general election, or whether actually some areas of the UK and sectors have improved – if they have, I say with certainty once again it’s on the backs and at the expenses of some regions and of those who could least afford it.
As Wales heads right into the storms of swingeing public services cuts, a Barnett Formula short-changing the Welsh people to the tune of £300m per year and more reform of the Welfare State, the people of Wales might be forgiven for looking to the future with fear and trepidation. There is little doubt that there will be a significant growth in poverty and inequality in Wales, particularly given that the Public Sector is the largest employer here and the cost of living continues to rise, alongside a growth in zero hour contracts and part time employment. For the first time in generations, it is likely that our children will have a worse standard of living than we have enjoyed.
Young people, face a singularly challenging and poorer future. Again it seems that the more vulnerable and less fortunate, the bigger their challenge.
Recent Conservative Party proposals to cut Housing Benefit for young people aged 18-21, following on from news that young people could lose out on Job Seekers Allowance, being eligible only for a six month ‘Youth Allowance’ all imply that young people are nothing but a drain on resources, willfully opting out of the employment market and to be tolerated rather than valued.
To take the example of Housing Benefit; Housing Benefit is just one of the ways in which low paid, employed young people can make ends meet in a job market where, despite assertions to the contrary, wages are still low, zero hours contracts are rife and the National Minimum Wage does not pay enough to live on in a country where the cost of living continues to rise.
Proposal such as these, and similar by successive governments, to me demonstrate that as a group, young people are not understood or respected by politicians. They certainly are not listened to. Is it any wonder many have disengaged from political debate? Their needs and their potential are ignored. Yet again, young people are expected to carry the burden of cuts. To my mind this is a mixture of short-termism and sheer stupidity.
Llamau strongly supports the idea that ideally, young people under 18 should live at home BUT for many young people, home is not a safe or appropriate place or a place where they are wanted or have any chance of reaching their potential. We also support the idea that young people who do not go on to further education or who cannot find work should be actively engaged , but this activity MUST be meaningful and equip them with the skills and qualifications to compete on a level playing field. For too many young people this is currently not available.
Wales has always been a fair and just nation, that’s why I am, despite the odds, optimistic; I refuse to believe we will throw a future generation on the scrap heap with the most vulnerable at the bottom. This government’s strategy, for want of a far ruder word, has failed young people and totally worked against the most vulnerable.
Vulnerable young people are not a problem – they have the right to be the citizens of tomorrow. They need to be offered more than despair and disregard. They need a real stake in our society, which comes by investing in them through education, vocational training, apprenticeships and decent jobs. They then truly will become the solution for Wales. So with optimism I am calling on us all to work together, I’m calling on all policy makers, service commissioners to take a pragmatic long term approach and provide a real solution – with the right services to support and enable young people, they WILL help re-build this country’s future, because we worked with them to unlock their potential.
As Wales’ leading homelessness charity, Llamau works with some of Wales most vulnerable and marginalised people, they have been disproportionately affected by a poor economy, the impact of welfare reform, and have been excluded and left on the periphery of society. They have been written off by many as underachievers or simply lazy; a drain on resources; a problem to be managed.
That view is categorically wrong. Not only is it wrong, in a just and fair society it is unacceptable. In my book, it is discrimination at its worst. It de-humanises young people who are homeless and vulnerable and who have the same aspirations as our children, our family, our friends, you and me.
Many of the most vulnerable young people don’t believe in their own potential. Because they have been told so often they are useless and worthless, they have come to believe it, like anyone who has been abused and let’s face it, society to a large extent has done just that. Let’s take one example. We remove a young child from a family where they have been the victim of severe psychological and sexual abuse – they are the innocent victims of horrendous crimes – we then put them in a system where they are moved from pillar to post, (one of our amazing young people, has been placed in over 60 children’s homes and 50 schools) – there their needs, their basic right to thrive and flourish, are not only not met, but they are subjected to further pain and trauma. When they leave Care as a young person they are a product of what we have subjected them to and then we label them and blame them for their experiences!! Words simply fail me. I know from first-hand experience, they are exactly the same as my own children. Yes, they may have complex needs and personal barriers which they need support to overcome, but given that support, given that opportunity, they cut through the chains holding them back and are truly inspirational in the way they move forward with their lives. Llamau has seen this happen year on year. Last year, 4,782 people we worked with moved forward with their lives.
Our young people are not a problem and its time they were stopped being treated as such. Our young people have the right to be the citizens of tomorrow. They need to be offered more than despair and disregard. They need a stake in our society, which comes by investing in them through education vocational training, apprenticeships and decent jobs. They will then truly become the solution for Wales. With your help and your support we can put an end to the misery of dashed hopes and untapped potential.
I hope you will support Llamau as we continue to work tirelessly to Unlock Potential.