Improving prospects for our young people

By Sarah Harding

SARAH HARDING is feeling very positive

There has definitely been a better time to be a young person. Youth unemployment stands at over a million, apprenticeships and internships are not given enough credit on the national stage, and far too many young people are not in employment, education or training (NEETs). But there is hope.

Liberal Democrats in government are ensuring the prospects of young people from primary school right through to the workplace. By living up to our manifesto commitment of a fair start for every child, we are instigating policies which will make a profound difference to children and young people across the country.

From just 18 months old, underprivileged children can begin falling behind educationally. The Liberal Democrat Pupil Premium- a total of £1.25bn pounds in 2012/13- will be targeted at these disadvantaged young people. Schools will be able to choose how to spend their share to improve the education of these children.

Youth Contract
To help NEETs, Nick Clegg’s £1bn Youth Contract is going a long way to breaking the disillusionment cycle. It will support businesses to create long-term sustainable new jobs for young people, improve the quantity and quality of apprenticeships and ensure young people have as many opportunities for work as possible.

For instance, in the Greater Manchester area alone, £9.2m will be spent on up to 7,200 new jobs for 16- and 17-year-olds. By increasing the amount of structured and worthwhile work experience and apprenticeships, the Youth Contract aims to provide at least 410,000 new work places for 18- to 24- year-olds over three years.

For those planning on attending university, the Office for Fair Access (OFFA) will finally have the leadership to ensure fairer access for non-traditional students. Vince Cable’s appointment of reformer Les Ebdon, against the wishes of Conservative Select Committee members, will see students getting value for money, an improved student experience and Universities reaching out to those from disadvantaged backgrounds.

OFFA will hold universities to account over their admissions policies, ensuring they invest in both recruitment and bursaries, or face severe penalities. OFFA is finally getting tough on the universities who do not attempt to open their doors to non-traditional students.

Finance and advice
By focusing certain resources on entrepreneurial spirit, this government is ensuring finance and advice is available to young people to set up their own business and create sustainable work.

At our Spring Conference we will debate our Youth Unemployment Paper. It calls for structured and appropriate work experience, access to careers advice and mentoring schemes. Young people will be able to make factual decisions about their future. Moving focus from university as the only means of post-18 education, this new policy will ensure a generation of better informed school-leavers.

Nick Clegg and our MPs are hoping to extend the Youth Contract into the next spending review and retain the guarantee for 18-year-olds permanently so that no young person leaves school at 18 without the opportunity to take up training, education or work within one year.

By giving young people more opportunities across the board for training, learning and entrepreneurship, we should see an increase in young people entering the world of work with the skills and experience employers want and need. The Liberal Democrats are giving hope to young people again.

We can and must do much more to improve the prospects of young people but the start we’ve made is a positive and permanent one for the future.

Sarah Harding is Policy Officer for Liberal Youth; this article was originally published in Lib Dem News

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