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It mostly covers my work as UNISON Scotland's Head of Policy and Public Affairs although views are my own. For full coverage of UNISON Scotland's policy and campaigns please visit our web site. You can also follow me on Twitter. I hope you find this blog interesting and I would welcome your comments.

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Youth Underclass

The Prince's Trust youth charity has released a report today warning that poverty is creating a "youth underclass" in Scotland. The survey, carried out by YouGov revealed that 12% of young people in Scotland feel "people like them don't succeed in life", while 19% said they believe "few" or "none" of their goals are achievable. It also showed those growing up in poverty were more likely to feel this way - which the charity said highlights an "aspiration gap" between the UK's richest and poorest people.

Let me add a few hard Scottish statistics to the survey:

  • The gap between the bottom 20% and the average in learning outcomes has not narrowed in the last ten years.
  • The percentage of children leaving school directly into unemployment has risen to 22% for the bottom 20% of the young population of Scotland.
  • Youth unemployment has risen from 13% to 20% in the last 3 years and over 70% of that group are long term unemployed.
  • Half of all young people in Scottish prisons have been in care. This rises to 80% when looking only at those convicted of violent offences. Despite just 1% of all Scottish children having been in care.

This report from the Princes Trust is helpful in highlighting this issue and should act as a warning shot that we don't want to create another 'lost generation', as happened during the Thatcher years. In fairness to Iain Gray (and not many are at present!) this was something that he tried to get into the policy lite election debate.  However, my concern is over the Trust's emphasis on "an aspiration gap between the UK's richest and poorest people."

The key issue is not 'aspiration', it's poverty and inequality. The poorest tenth of the Scottish population now have, between them, 2% of Scotland's total income. In contrast, the richest tenth have around 29% and that has grown from 25% in the last ten years. If we look at the long term trends, Scotland was becoming a slightly more equal society during the 50's and 60's, but this started to go in the wrong direction in the Thatcher years and hasn't stopped since.
So what should we as a nation do to address this issue? 
In the short term we can stop cutting the public services that are trying to at least mitigate the impact of poverty on young people. Council youth services rarely have a statutory basis and as a consequence have been early targets for cuts. The same is true of the services provided by the voluntary sector in this field. Many aspects of child care are also grossly underfunded.
The medium term challenge is preventative spending in early years. Susan Deacon's report is particularly helpful in this regard. The NSPCC have also highlighted the risk of relentless intergenerational deprivation. If we put as much effort into early intervention as we have into criminal justice and anti-social behaviour - the results could be transformational.
In the longer term we have to tackle the underlying causes of poverty and inequality. Not just because it is right to help those at disadvantage. Not just because it it will avoid the huge cost on the public purse of this failure demand. But most of all because more equal societies do better on every measure including economic growth. So it is in all our interests, rich and poor, to face up to this and make equality the guiding light of public policy in Scotland.






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