When I was told I would be included in the Queen's New Year honours list, I thought I would write a blog reflecting on my career and the issues that remain as pertinent today as they did when I started working in the voluntary sector many years ago. And then I remembered that I find New Year reflections and forecasts dull and time-consuming.
So, instead, here are the top things I would like to see change in relation to children and young people in the UK.
1. More support to help young people find jobs
Politicians, employers, educationalists and journalists must acknowledge that we have a crisis of opportunity among young people. The situation is bad for all young people but particularly bad for young women. We have a generation that will be worse off than their parents, we have youth worklessness rates over 20% in some places, and we have high levels of in-work poverty. We continue to have high levels of job segregation, with women hugely under-represented in certain areas of work, and economic inactivity remains stubbornly high among young parents. Young mothers are particularly at risk of maternity discrimination.
Young people want to work but they need more support. It is not that they just need a bit of career advice and, hey presto, problem solved. Collectively, we need to recognise that we have a fundamental problem and we are at risk of disenfranchising a generation of young people. Is it any wonder they are less likely to vote?!
2. Investment in new jobs
We cannot rely on careers advice and other employment support services to address the situation on their own. These services will fail unless there is investment in business and training in areas where young people are struggling to find anything that they can do.
3. An end to gender stereotypes that shut women out of higher-paid jobs
We need to incentivise young women into work areas like construction and IT, so that they can challenge the usual stereotypes and create a critical mass of young women who will in turn become role models for those following behind them.
4. Care given the recognition it deserves
We must value parenting and caring and demonstrate this by providing truly affordable and accessible childcare, by finding ways of supporting kinship care, by paying decent salaries to those who work in these sectors and by making all jobs flexible and part-time by default for men and women.
5. Better mental health services for young people
If we really value our children and young people, and want to address the reality that young women are now the highest risk group in England for mental health problems, we need to dramatically improve the mental health services they use, ranging from preventative interventions to suitable inpatient care for those in greatest need.
6. More flexible and part-time apprenticeships
Schools will never be able to ensure that all young people leave with clear career paths and adequate qualifications. We cannot write off young people at 16 or 18 because they have not achieved a level of qualification that is likely to get them into work. There needs to be greater focus and commitment to affordable and accessible further education and apprenticeships, including flexible and part-time apprenticeships. We need training for young men and women to fill the jobs that the economy needs.
7. A living wage for all
We also need to lower the height of the hurdles preventing young people from escaping from poverty. This includes prohibitive housing and travel costs which contribute to the levels of in-work poverty, and a basic living wage for all young people.
8. Investment in preventing abuse and violence
In relation to abuse and violence, we need to have a much better understanding of our emotional worlds. We invest so little in understanding why people are violent, what influences their sexual proclivities. I am not suggesting for one moment that we should condone abuse of any sort, but that we should acknowledge its prevalence in most communities and invest more in understanding how to manage and prevent it, rather than just to punish perpetrators when and if their crimes come to light. I have no idea how much the fated Independent Inquiry into Sexual Abuse is going to cost but I wonder if there has been any consideration of investing at least the equivalent in research and treatment facilities.
9. A commitment to tackling under-representation in the workplace
We need to do something that speeds up the pace of change for women and quotas could be one way forward. Let's at least make sure there is an obligation on all employers and educational establishments to demonstrate how they are attempting to address under-representation of certain groups and not just paying lip service to the issue.
10. An understanding that young people want to contribute
I could go on: access to pornography; gendered toys; the portrayal of young women and young men in the media - just to name a few. But, ultimately, I think having the will to look at what is happening relies on the fundamental questions: do we value young people and do we understand that most of them want to work and contribute to society?
Happy 2017 and here's hoping when we get to 2018 some progress will have been made.Suggest a correction