Mike Strang welcomes the publication of Youth Scotland's new report
Around one in four children in Scotland are living in poverty.
Even though we are surrounded by almost daily news stories about the cost of living crisis, that statistic really cuts through.
Despite the impending financial crisis and the spiralling cost of living, many of us probably still consider our society to be a leading economy – affluent even. And we are, so it’s hard to accept that one in four of our children suffers this way; harder still when the research shows that those affected could also have a life expectancy of almost two decades less than those in higher income families.
At Youth Scotland, we serve a membership of 1,730 youth groups and over 9,397 youth workers working with some 82,571 young people; together we believe in better outcomes for young people.
Our membership network is made up of local youth groups of all sizes, area associations and Youth Scotland staff who provide support and training on a range of youth work topics. We are proud of the varied, universal youth work our network delivers and the innovative solutions our members develop in an ever-changing youth work landscape.
We are proud to release our report, Acting on Poverty: how Youth Scotland’s vital work supports the most affected communities, which explores the impact and views from some of those most affected by the financial crisis.
As the report examines, not only are young people living in poverty, but they must also contend with the poverty-related attainment gap and the untold impact of post-pandemic wellbeing and mental health. The Scottish Government has identified that affected families require ‘an increasingly complex set of services’. The fact that community-based youth work has strong roots in these same communities is key.
The challenges are real, but the community-based youth work sector fosters resilience and focuses on recovery. While we’re individually facing down all of these issues, one of the fantastic strengths of community-based youth work is that it is a community endeavour. Youth Scotland builds capacity, through Youth Work in our communities.
The amazing youth groups that make up our membership are usually born from local volunteers seeing a need and growing something with their young people. It’s truly inspirational to see groups in some of the most affected communities come together and show us the way. Youth groups build strong relationships with young people and their local communities.
Since releasing our report, we have been delighted with the response from the youth work sector, the public sector and beyond. This is clearly a timely conversation and there are many willing to give voice to the challenges not just facing young people, but those who would work to make a difference in those same communities.
So what’s the ask? Simply that we must not cut funding to youth work, and instead invest in supporting the invaluable work the voluntary youth work sector does. We know it works - we know that universal, inclusive community-based youth work delivers – one needs only to read the research The Impact of Community-based Universal Youth Work in Scotland - a study commissioned by the Scottish Youth Work Research Steering Group. Young people uniformly reported that their local groups were fun, supportive, inclusive and safe environments.
We also know the same universal youth work supports those affected by poverty, as Acting on Poverty demonstrates. As we conclude there, the youth work sector will continue to provide crucial support for young people, families and communities that are struggling during the ongoing cost of living crisis.
Youth groups are well placed both to support young people and communities in accessing essential supplies and services, and also to bring joy and hope at a time when they are much needed – but only if we ensure they are supported and funded to weather the difficulties ahead.
Mike Strang is chief executive of Youth Scotland.