Memorandum submitted by Community Matters
is the national federation of community associations and similar organisations,
with more than 1200 members across the
Our vision is for active and sustainable communities in which everyone is valued and can play their full part. Community Matters pursues this vision by supporting and developing the capacity of community organisations and representing their interests at a national level.
· In the importance of community, in a world where so many people are isolated and marginalised.
· That racial, religious and social diversity (or difference) adds value to our society, and that everyone has the right to equality of opportunity.
· That democratic community organisations help to empower individuals and contribute towards a cohesive and vibrant society.
· In the value of voluntary activity: including formal and informal volunteering, mutual organisations and self help groups.
· In the distinctiveness of the community sector as a part of the wider voluntary and community sector.
· In the value of community development as a process which gives confidence and skills to people to exercise greater power in their everyday lives.
· In working in partnership with organisations that share similar values in order to maximise resources and influence
Although we have members of all sizes, most of the organisations we represent are small, independent, community-led and democratically-run groups that work at neighbourhood level. Many are based around a community-owned or -managed space, but our membership also includes second-tier organisations, housing associations and Local Authorities
2. General Comments
The government has introduced a range of measures to deal with youth unemployment. In January, Gordon Brown announced 35,000 apprenticeships to help young people gain a footing on the career ladder, and reiterated his commitment to raising the school leaving age to 18. Meanwhile the government is rolling out the New Deal, with the aim of further supporting the long-term unemployed.
Apprenticeships are not necessarily a response to NEET as young people NEET are unlikely to be able to compete for Apprenticeship opportunities and apprenticeships are more likely to be suited to more work-ready young people rather then NEET young people with multiple problems. NEET young people are less likely to have qualifications and personal skills at entry level for apprenticeship schemes. We recommend that holistic, community-based learning opportunities are specifically targeted at those who are most vulnerable or isolated, and that pre-EET gateways into more formal education are maintained as valuable in their own right. We also believe that community and voluntary organisations are an essential part of addressing the needs of these people and providing a route to formal education, employment and training.
3. Response to Specific Questions
3.1 The likely impact of raising the participation age on strategies for addressing the needs of young people not in education, employment or training
There is an argument that raising the age of participation in these strategies can postpone the problem of youth unemployment rather than solve it. If an initiative to extend these strategies to a wider age range is to be delivered consistently and have real benefit then there will need to be a wide range of participation options. Some of these will need to offer maximum flexibility to engage young people who may be most vulnerable or at risk of non-participation. The Community Sector could contribute significantly to this flexibility by providing less formal, less intimidating spaces in local communities where young people live.
We believe that a tailored, flexible and holistic approach is the most effective method in supporting vulnerable NEET young people into the labour market. The community sector is more likely to be in a position to provide a personalised and differentiated service to meet individual needs, and have an emphasis on enabling young to take incremental, sustainable steps into the workforce.
In general, there has been a lack of strategic engagement of the community sector in both the early identification of young people vulnerable to becoming NEET and also in delivering services to those already NEET. Our members experience is that the community sector could play a key role in both of these areas. For example, community organisations are firmly rooted in their localities and are well placed to understand needs within families and communities. They are well trusted and many are already engaging with vulnerable families in a variety of ways. These links and deep rooted understanding could be better used strategically to indentify families in which, for example there is long term generational unemployment, in which young women have been teenage parents or in which older young people have been involved with the young justice system. These factors, amongst others, are more likely to be linked to young people being vulnerable to becoming NEET, and the community sector can play a key role in early identification of these and other risk factors.
In the same way, the community and voluntary sector should be engaged strategically in the delivery of programmes for young people already NEET, as they are more likely to be able to supply a non-stigmatised, less formal, more accessible offer which young people NEET may feel more able and motivated to access.
3.2 The effectiveness of the Government's NEET strategy
The national NEET strategy has generally been delivered within Local Authority and LSC services without a clear strategic role for the community sector. Agency-led approaches are often driven by outputs and the need to move a set number of people from point to another point within a set timeframe. This can often leads to less sustainable long-term outcomes for the 'beneficiary'. Despite considerable progress since the introduction of Connexions and general acknowledgment that NEET is shared issue across local authorities, there remains a stubborn cohort of young people NEET. Many local authorities are struggling to make further real progress. Our members' experience is that it has been very difficult or impossible for them to 'break into' and make the valuable contributions to work with NEET young people which they are well placed to make.
In practice, this means two things: working across providers to harness the expertise of the community voluntary sector and working across issues to ensure that problems to do with unemployment, access to education and training are tackled together.
3.4 Services and programmes to support those most at risk of becoming "NEET", and to reduce the numbers and address the needs of those who have become persistently "NEET"
There is a sub-group of the NEET cohort who are willing and able to engage but who have possibly dropped out of FE realising that full time education is not the right option for them. Given the scarcity of employment, the only realistic option is E2E. These provisions are often perceived as lower quality, stigmatised offers which lack appeal to young people who are NEET. There needs to be a more flexible range of EET options, in different locations delivered by a wider range of providers. The delivery market needs to be opened up so that it is accessible to a wider range of providers, including voluntary and community organisations.
3.5 The opportunities and future prospects in education, training and employment for 16-18 year olds
Vulnerable young people NEET would benefit from being able to 'build up' 'EET hours' flexibly across a range of provision and be able to reach EET by doing so (and therefore claim EMA). This approach could draw in a wider range of expertise in terms of providers, provide acknowledgement where young people are taking part in positive options and integrate things like work experience or volunteering.
Local authority -led approaches to social problems can often struggle to engage and earn the respect of their client group. Voluntary and community organisations generally have greater credibility with their beneficiaries as a result of their bottom-up community roots approach and their 'real work' environments.
Voluntary and community led solutions for young people who are NEET could be more widespread and more effective. However this will require a step-change in policy support for the sector's contribution.