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Are we valuing our young people?

July 15, 2008

It was poignant that last week, on the same day as I submitted my column about Michael Foster’s vote on MPs expenses, I went to Hastings Town Hall after work to listen to the discussion on the Hastings & St Leonards Homelessness Strategy. Whilst it is comprehensive and informative, this document makes for depressing reading [see link to the document].

I was particularly horrified to learn that ‘26% of all homeless acceptances in 2007/8 were applicants under 16 or 17 year olds. The national average has been 9% for the last five years, recently reducing to 8.5%.’

The figures speak for themselves.

And they have a number of related effects.

I was pleased to see that the authors of the report have understood that homelessness impacts on employment and education, physical and mental health, substance misuse and crime.

The reality is that people’s lives are complicated. And because problems are often joined up, solutions must be too.

Young people know this better than any of us.

A couple of months ago I went to take part in a question and answer session with young people at the (excellent) Xtrax project (‘a chilled out safe place for 16-25 year olds’). The young people that came to grill the politicians pointed out difficulties that they are facing with the new Local Housing Allowance, and the fact that it is paid direct to tenants rather than landlords.

That some young people would like to have money going straight towards bill payment, without them having to ‘handle’ it, is something we must take on board. We must hear that there can be unintended flip-sides to measures which may start out life as strategies to empower people.

I have just been asked by my Party to join our national policy working group on young people’s issues. We will be reporting to Party Conference next year.

At a local and a national level I will be arguing that the people who have real expertise on this are young people themselves, and that they must be supported to participate fully in the development of the policy and services designed with them in mind.

What we must aim for is a public service culture which is working in direct partnership with young people, and being shaped by this partnership. We cannot afford for such services to be tokenistic about it.

There is no more pressing issue in this regard than the proposed Academies project.

Whilst I will be coming back to this issue in future columns, Liberal Democrats have a number of concerns about the proposals, and have put down a marker this week about the consultation that is a legal requirement of the process.

Make no mistake, young people must be at the heart of this consultation.

And Liberal Democrats will fight tooth and nail to make sure of it.

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