Why We Need to Invest in Life Chances for Young Women

26/05/2016 10:37 | Updated 26 May 2016

Last week I received an invitation to an event to celebrate an anniversary. It is 150 years since the Women's Suffrage Committee, formed by Barbara Bodichon, collected 1500 signatures on a petition for women's suffrage in 1866. This was presented to the House of Commons by John Stuart Mill, the philosopher, political economist and Member of Parliament.

I am sure I don't need to tell you that it took 52 years before women over 30 got the vote, and 10 more long years before young women were included.

Sadly, even though young people do have the vote it seems that they do not believe that there is much to be gained by putting it into practice. Young Women's Trust went with young women to Westminster when they told politicians very directly that they did not think that their concerns were of interest to people in power.

I would argue that much has changed for the better and compared to my mother's generation there is undoubtedly more opportunity for women to work and participate fully in society. But young people, and particularly young women continue to be the most disadvantaged and maybe this is why they are pessimistic about change.

Unemployment rates for those under 25 are persistently higher than the rest of the population and for over 10 years considerably more young women than young men have been NEET (not in education, employment and training), at the moment approximately 1 in 3 of all young women aged 18-24 (compared to young men where it is approximately 1 in 5).

It is legal to pay young people under 25 less than those 25 or above. Young women have told me that this suggests to them that the work delivered by those under 25 is of less value than others, no matter their skills and experience or the quality of what they do. Some people argue that paying under 25's is acceptable as it is short term and a step towards future opportunities. But young women are at high risk of becoming entrenched in low paid and insecure work, particularly if they have few qualifications. Very low pay keeps them focused on how they are going to survive day to day, it does not equip them to train and develop career aspirations.

All this adds up to young women being at greatest risk of enduring dependence on welfare and being stuck in long term poverty.

In the Queen's Speech I was very pleased to hear about the government's intention to improve the life chances of those most disadvantaged. But this won't work unless we look at the particular challenges facing young men and young women and we invest in making a difference now - not in 50 years' time!

We need to invest in our young people. Giving them a vote is not enough.We have to show them that we will listen to them and change things for them, then they will think it is worth voting.