1.4 Youth policy decision-making
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LAST MODIFIED ON: 13/08/2020 - 11:31
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Youth policy and strategy is a cross-government area led by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS). More specifically, responsibilities for some elements of youth policy are part of the portfolio of the Under Secretary of State for Sport and Civil Society. DCMS also has responsibility for culture, sport, tourism, leisure, the creative industries and broadcasting. It took over responsibility for youth policy from the Cabinet Office in 2016. Prior to 2013, youth policy was within the remit of the Department for Education.
DCMS's responsibilities for youth policy mainly relate to out-of-school opportunities for young people. It promotes social action schemes for young people and also has responsibility for the National Citizen Service (for further information see the section on 'Youth Volunteering at National Level' in the Chapter on 'Voluntary Activities' ). Other responsibilities include supporting local authorities to deliver their statutory duties for youth provision and strategic dialogue with young people.
Other policies relating to young people sit with departments that have responsibility for that policy area as a whole; for example, responsibility for youth employment sits with the Department for Work and Pensions.
Local authorities (LAs) have a statutory duty (under section 507B of the Education and Inspections Act 2006 – see the article on 'National Youth Law') to secure sufficient services and activities for young people aged 13-19 (and those with learning difficulties to age 24) and to improve their well-being. They have responsibility for coordinating the overall local offer of all available provision for young people. They do not have to deliver the services themselves, and may commission, support and facilitate organisations from the voluntary, community and social enterprise (VCSE) sector to do this.
It is in-line with central government's localism agenda, whereby more power lies at a local level, that decisions about this statutory duty of an offer for young people are determined at a local, rather than a national, level. No standard of such services for young people is specified.
Young people's role in decision-making
The current Government is committed to giving young people a voice in formulating youth policy. It is also committed to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, and demonstrates this by placing a strong emphasis on consulting young people, involving them in local democratic processes and decision making, and recognising their positive contribution to society.
In August 2018, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) published their Civil Society Strategy, which emphasised the value of youth participation in politics and civil society, and the Government’s commitment to increasing youth participation. This took the form of a Youth Steering Group, managed by the British Youth Council as part of the Youth Voice contract that will run until at least March 2020.
The British Youth Council provides a range of other youth participation services as part of this contract with the aim of greater involvement of young people in policy-making decisions. For example, the Youth Voice Groups, which involve young people in decision-making across three areas: advocacy, youth engagement and accessibility. As well as this, the Young Inspectors programme is designed to ensure young people can influence local services within their local communities.
In July 2020, the UK government launched Involved.uk, a new digital platform (Instagram page) with the aim to engage young people aged 13-25 in government decision-making. Responses to polls will be fed live to public consultations and wider policy-making in government departments.
Youth policies from a range of government departments aim to:
- support parents and families to support their children from birth to and through the teenage years
- ensure that all young people succeed in learning and find a job
- help young people develop their character, a sense of belonging and the behaviours which will help them succeed in learning, work and life
- encourage young people to take care of their physical and mental health
- look out for the most vulnerable young people who may suffer abuse, neglect, exploitation, or homelessness, focusing intensively on those for whom the state acts as a corporate parent
- prevent youth crime and support young people in the criminal justice system.
Overlaps with European Union policy
In its 2015 submission to the EU Youth Report, the Cabinet Office, which held policy responsibility for young people at the time, identified the five areas where the main themes of the (then) Government policy overlapped with the EU Youth Strategy:
- education and training
- employment and entrepreneurship
- voluntary activities
- social inclusion.
The main themes underpinning the offer made by local authorities (LAs) are set out in Statutory Guidance for Local Authorities on Services and Activities to Improve Young People’s Well-being, issued by the Secretary of State for Education in 2012. It lists the youth work and other services that LAs should provide, so far as they are practically able, to improve the well-being of young people. This includes youth work and other activities that:
- connect young people with their communities, enabling them to belong and contribute to society, including through volunteering, and supporting them to have a voice in decisions which affect their lives
- offer young people opportunities in safe environments to take part in a wide range of sports, arts, music and other activities, through which they can develop a strong sense of belonging, socialise safely with their peers, enjoy social mixing, experience spending time with older people, and develop relationships with adults they trust
- support the personal and social development of young people through which they build the capabilities they need for learning, work, and the transition to adulthood – communication, confidence and agency, creativity, managing feelings, planning and problem solving, relationships and leadership, and resilience and determination
- improve young people’s physical and mental health and emotional well-being
- help those young people at risk of dropping out of learning or not achieving their full potential to engage and attain in education or training
- raise young people’s aspirations, build their resilience, and inform their decisions, thereby reducing teenage pregnancy, risky behaviours such as substance misuse, and involvement in crime and anti-social behaviour.
The Civil Society Strategy, 2018 states that the government will review the guidance, which sets out the statutory duty placed on local authorities to provide appropriate local youth service. The review is expected to provide greater clarity of government’s expectations, including the value added by good youth work.
Surveys of local provision
A 2011 House of Commons Education Committee report on Services for Young People describes the local authority provision as follows:
Provision has typically taken the form of open-access services, including a range of leisure, cultural and sporting activities often based around youth centres. Local authorities also provide targeted services for vulnerable young people, such as teenage pregnancy advice, youth justice teams, drug and alcohol misuse services and homelessness support. Whilst some authorities provide services directly, many are contracted out to voluntary, community or private organisations. These sectors also provide a range of services funded wholly or largely from external sources: both open-access ones, such as the Scouts or faith-based groups, and targeted ones, such as training programmes run by Fairbridge. The breadth of activities and providers meeting the description of ‘services for young people’ is consequently so broad that it is almost impossible to describe as a single sector.
In 2012, the National Youth Agency, an intermediary charity which is the national body for youth work, published the results of a commission into what 'sufficient' local provision of services for young people should be. The NYA Commission aimed to gather and scrutinise evidence from across the sector to create a clearer picture of sufficiency. The findings were intended to inform central government and local authority understanding of sufficiency.
In 2013, the Cabinet Office undertook a survey to develop a broader understanding of how local authorities meet their statutory duty to secure services and activities for young people.
There is no government agency in England which meets the definition of a national agency for youth - a government agency established to address youth issues, design and manage youth related programmes and initiatives, supporting both individuals and entities in availing themselves of funding opportunities, as well as producing and disseminating information on youth policies and opportunities.
There are no mechanisms specifically for monitoring and evaluating the implementation and effects of youth policies. A range of tools are utilised for general policy monitoring including in-house research capability, commissioned research, surveys, impact assessments, consultations, etc. Some surveys, for example, may be conducted at regular intervals and new policy documents generally include a statement regarding the timing of any evaluation.
Further details of policy making, monitoring and evaluation processes are provided in the article on 'Evidence-based youth policy’.