Young Women, Youth Work and Politics

By chance I tripped over this piece in the Huffington Post written by Sarah Robertson, Politicians meet the People. It begins:

Thanks to The Young Women’s Trust and the Good Youth Forum funded by Trust For London, I had the opportunity to have a tour of the Houses of Parliament in May and then a round table discussion with Labour MP’s. It was part of a piece of work around the development of services for women and girls and why young people don’t vote.

In addition Sarah reflects:

The group wanted to ask questions such as, with huge cuts in government funding out statutory youth service has been demolished with the pressure falling in the voluntary sector, who will support and represent our vulnerable young people and how will you reach and inspire this group to vote? And, was the last discussion just a publicity stunt to show Labour trying to engage with young people? And with cuts to NHS funding who will support the increasing number of young people with mental health? They had prepared lots of interesting questions and statements but lack of structure and time made it difficult to decipher any clear answers or actions at all. Even a straight forward answer to a question posed to an MP asking if she had accessed housing benefit was deflected and went unanswered. This did not fill young women with inspiration or trust only reinforced the view that young women were angry, frustrated and needed something drastic to inspire them and others to engage in the political system.

FMC logo

In my ignorance I’d not heard of the Young Women’s Trust or the Good Youth Forum, but the obligatory Google took me to the Future MOLDS Communities web site. Here is to be found another example of the changing economy of youth work, within which workers set up social enterprise initiatives in a bid to maintain provision for young people. Sarah is revealed to be the the Founder, Managing Director and volunteer of Future MOLDS Communities, a youth and community group and social enterprise run by local people for local people. She provides this eloquent case for the work of the project.

We are from deprived, disadvantaged and vulnerable environments facing issues which affect everyday life. These issues range from financial poverty, mental health, homelessness, unemployment, poor sexual health, teenage pregnancy and criminality. As a group of passionate, motivated and caring individuals we work together with our communities to overcome our barriers and strive for the ‘self-actualisation’ Maslow speaks of. But everyday life is a struggle and the demand for our help is ever increasing with the failure of statutory services to the most vulnerable and the ignorance of the systems which govern them. With £54million cuts to local authority funding it is our vulnerable young people and young adults who are suffering. Cuts are disproportionately hitting our young people the hardest with youth services slashed to a bare minimum of targeted provisions and the voluntary sector are expected to step in and pick up the growing and unacceptable slack.

The struggle for funding for grassroots groups who help the most vulnerable is a tragedy. Funding is eaten up by local authorities and large charities which then ask grassroots groups for voluntary help in engaging the underrepresented groups they are failing. Having a voice on a wider stage seems insignificant if you can’t even be heard in your local community. Local young people have developed a youth forum (The Good Youth Forum) to highlight and discuss local issues affecting their everyday lives after securing funding from Trust For London. It’s a platform for them to explore the world from their perspective, explore changes they would like to happen and developing strategies to affect change. Young people need that space and freedom to explore theirs and others worlds, to express their thoughts, feelings, wants and needs and to feel empowered to contribute towards change.

Although the platform we provide may be small it’s a platform for the effective representation of the views of underrepresented local young women. These views are pretty depressing, saddening, heart breaking, powerful and justified. Current attitudes towards the establishment, politics, the statutory sector and government in general are extremely negative with a sense of being failed, let down and unheard. There is a lack of trust and feelings of dishonesty when it comes to politics and politicians. They feel their needs are not heard, understood and subsequently failed to be addressed adequately.

On discussing voting with a group of young women, their views reflected the anger at not being able to affect or create change for themselves and their peers. They clearly stated they were not the least interested in politics, it is not a priority for them and the only reason they were engaging in such a discussion was because I’d asked them to. If I had not asked them, who would know their views, who would know how they feel, how are these vulnerable young women represented in today’s politics? This is another example, of the importance of funding for quality youth work in order to explore the world we all live in and so that young women are empowered to speak out about their priorities and they are represented.

At a time when there is a drive for the ‘de-professionalisation’ of our roles, a cut in our funding and an increase in demand for our services the same need for resilience, the need to develop coping strategies and the need to adapt in change we hope to see in our young people is something we need to develop as professionals. Keeping the faith is going to be the biggest challenge for all!

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