Youth work is one of the biggest contributions we can make to Scotland's future

As Director of Poverty Alliance, Peter Kelly knows a thing or two about inequality and poverty in Scotland. Youth work, he writes, has to be viewed as a vital partner if we are to create a better, more just Scotland for all of us.

Headshot of Peter Kelly from Poverty Alliance

Scotland’s young people are going through a really important time in their lives – a period of remarkable opportunity and growth.

From around age 10 to about 25, they discover, learn from, and adapt to the world. They start to map out who a sense of who they are and who they aspire to be. They’re learning to make decisions, manage emotions, and create deeper connections with peers, romantic partners and others in their communities.

It’s also a vital time in terms of recognising any adversity in their lives, and beginning to lessen its effects for the future.

To do that, young people need supportive social environments, stimulating learning experiences, and diverse extracurricular activities in our communities to thrive.

Inequity of opportunity in Scotland

But for far too many young people, the injustice of poverty in wealthy Scotland means they are often locked out of those kinds of vital experiences. They don’t have the income that allows their better-off peers to travel, go to the cinema, see a play, or go to a gig. And that has an impact on their view of the world, and who they could be in it.

Our present society creates inequity and disparities between young people – and it’s young people from low-income backgrounds who are more likely to be left outside looking in, along with girls and young women, and those who are from minority backgrounds, or disabled young people.

That’s why the Poverty Alliance believes that youth work is vital to a just Scotland.

The value of youth work

In our research looking at the poverty-related attainment gap in schools, we highlighted how often the support of community agencies and youth workers can change the aspirations and goals of young people.

We found evidence that youth clubs and other community learning development projects play an important role in offering a welcoming, accessible, and neutral place for young people. We highlighted research showing the ‘transformative effects’ of the support that youth workers give.

That’s why, this Youth Work Week, we want to send thanks and pay tribute to YouthLink Scotland, its member organisations, and all the youth workers up and down the country who work so hard to support our next generation. It’s one of the biggest contributions we can make to Scotland’s future – because when young people are better able to look after their personal well-being, they’re better able to contribute to our collective well-being, creating a better, more just Scotland for all of us.

Tackling Child Poverty Development Plan

Alongside YouthLink Scotland, we welcome the fact that youth work has been recognised and valued in the Scottish Government’s Tackling Child Poverty Development Plan. We agree that we should recognise child poverty as denying children’s human rights and violating the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child – and we look forward to hearing how Ministers are going to re-start moves to make the UNCRC part of Scots Law.

During Challenge Poverty Week, we heard from our voluntary and community organisations about the importance of fair funding to their efforts to tackle poverty. Youth work is no different. We look forward to the publication of the Government’s updated National Youth Work Strategy, and hope that it underpins a commitment to make sure that the youth work sector gets the finance and resources that will allow it to grow, develop, and make sure that every young person gets the support and experiences they need.

As YouthLink Scotland’s Youth Work and Poverty Policy Brief says:

“….no government alone can tackle and reduce child poverty. It takes united focus and purpose to deliver the change to how public services are delivered, and in moving to a person-centred approach to supporting families. This is why we will continue to work with local and national partners to understand and support the role of youth work in alleviating poverty and developing a holistic support offer that recognises the transformative impact of youth workers on the lives of children and young people.”

YouthLink Scotland, Poverty Policy Brief, October 2023

We all need to help Scotland’s young people on the path to adulthood, to help build better communities and a better society for all of us.