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Meg Munn MP - Sheffield Heeley's voice in Parliament | Welcome
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Changing the face of youth work: promoting minority participation

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

At a seminar organised by the UKYouth organisation Meg gave the following speech. For details of UKYouth: http://www.ukyouth.org/


Thank you for inviting me to take part in this seminar.


Feeling empowered to participate must be a core ingredient of any vibrant democracy. That feeling of being able to take part, that people will listen, think about and respond to me - these are important feelings for us all no matter how young or old we are.


Interestingly there is considerable evidence to suggest that feeling empowered is also associated with higher public satisfaction, better services, reduced crime, better cohesion, joint working between the third sector and public agencies, and lifting areas of multiple disadvantage.


So the more empowerment people feel the better for society at large.


The key indicators are:

?         do people feel they can influence decisions in their locality, and

?         whether all groups feel they can participate in local civic activities aimed at giving them more say over public policies or services.


It’s often young people who feel other groups are making decisions, are holding power. A feeling which is often stronger in deprived areas. A crying shame when many young people have ideas and a sense of responsibility about changing the world around them.


Of course, many young people are already active; they care about the issues of the day and are keen to be part of the solution. The Citizenship Survey (2005) suggests that participation in civic activities is strong - 63% of young people had given help to a group, club or organisation in the last year.  This is even higher for Black Caribbean minorities (71%), though low for Pakistani young people. We need to build on this foundation, ensuring that young people have a growing say and role in local services and local decision-making.


Important Opportunities for Engagement

This year there are important opportunities for more and better engagement. For instance, local authorities take on new duties to provide positive activities and involve young people in the development of their Children and Young People Plan.


You may know of the Youth Opportunity and Youth Capital Funds associated with Every Child Matters. They have helped young people, particularly those who are disadvantaged or are hard to reach, have a voice in improving things in their neighbourhoods.


In my Department we have supported the Young Advisors schemes - 18 of which are in operation around the country. Young Advisors are young people’s 'champions' who have been specially trained to 'youth proof' policies and practices and who speak out for young people and advise a wide range of decision makers on what young people believe their communities need.


Young Advisors schemes have proved successful in increasing young people's engagement with services and with the democratic process at local level. But they are under-represented in formal democratic structures and we know that children and young people want a formal voice in politics. The Citizenship Survey found that 81% felt that there should be a way to give young people a voice in politics.


The Commission on Local Councillors is now looking at how we can tackle the causes of under-representation of women, people from BME communities and also younger people. The numbers of councillors aged under 25 is extremely small - currently 62 - and under 8% are aged under 40 years. The Commission will be making recommendations by the end of November 2007 and is currently seeking views from the public via its web address.


Diversity Issues

Our strategy to increase race equality and community cohesion, Improving Opportunity, Strengthening Society, recognises that one of the key challenges is to get better at identifying and responding to the specific needs of different communities and cultures. Part of this is recognising that many young people face more than one potential disadvantage in life - not just their age, but also their race, physical disability or gender. 


Our approach must be flexible enough to cope with these issues. Diversity is an important feature of modern British society, and will become increasingly so in the years to come. 


We must treat all people, regardless of their race or cultural background, as individuals.  Nowhere is this truer than for the 674,000 mixed race people in this country, half of whom are under 16.  With this growing group we need to focus our engagement on the needs of the individual, regardless of their heritage, race and culture.


Black boys and young men, in particular, face serious challenges in every sector of society.  They are less likely to do well at school, more likely to be unemployed and much more likely to become involved in the criminal justice system than their peers.  We have to recognise that some of this is due to the failure of schools, employers and community groups to engage properly with them.


That is why we set up REACH, an independent working group of black community leaders and experts. Their report and recommendations are due to be published early this summer. We need ideas and solutions for what more Government, schools, families and communities can do raise the aspirations and achievement of black boys and young men, and how to keep them engaged.


Last year we provided £173m to schools to support schools and local education authorities in their work on improving the attainment of black and minority ethnic pupils. We also focussed training for teachers to help the 10% of all pupils in England that have English as a second language.


Building Cohesive Communities

Having the support of children and young people from different communities and cultures is essential to building cohesive communities. After all, they are the future of any given community.


The Citizenship Survey (2005) identifies that younger people are less positive about a range of issues connected with their neighbourhood than older people. But this can change, many young people have active social networks that include others from different ethnic groups, they can be powerful catalysts for the future.


I’d like to mention two key guidance documents aimed at local practitioners: Community Cohesion - an action guide and Community Cohesion: SEVEN STEPS, both of which are very useful reference documents.


Achieving Through Engagement

Involving young people provides opportunities for them to develop their confidence, knowledge, skills and abilities. It also has huge potential to change the way that local authorities and community groups provide activities and facilities for the young people. This positive approach contributes greatly to building cohesive communities.


Young people already make places and services where they live better. We have to continue to work to ensure that more young people, from all cultures and communities, have the opportunity to do the same. I welcome this evening’s seminar as part of the ongoing discussion about how we can develop this work further.

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