Youth Work is the Perfect Partner for Scottish Government’s Child Poverty Action Plan

This #ChallengePoverty Week, our Policy Manager Kevin Kane explores the connection between youth work, human rights and poverty – and how the youth work sector is a perfect fit to ensure the delivery of the Scottish Government’s Child Poverty Action Delivery Plan. 

Headshot of Kevin Kane with logo element superimposed on top of it

Poverty in Scotland

This week, we publish our Youth Work & Poverty Policy Brief, a delineation of youth work’s potential to be an instrumental lever in Scotland’s battle against poverty. 

It’s a perfect fit. 

Poverty is a rights issue. It’s a circumstance brought about by the withdrawal of basic human rights to varying degrees. Your right to an education and healthcare. To food, shelter and employment. Your right to be free from violence. Your right to life. 

All of these rights are under threat when you live in poverty. Youth work understands them all.

Youth Work is Human Rights Work

As a rights-based practice, youth work promotes inclusion, mutual respect, and equality. It is fundamentally about building relationships based on trust and shared understanding and using the strength of these relationships to develop a person-centred and non-formal learning approach to the development of young people. 

We know that far too many of the young population live in poverty. Poverty hurts children’s development, leading to lower income and health levels in adulthood. We should recognise child poverty as denying children’s human rights and violating the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) 

Poverty deprives young people of their right to education, including access to non-formal learning through youth work. The main determinants of social exclusion are rooted in social inequalities. So, to effectively prevent and remedy the risk of exclusion for many young people, we must address the root causes that generate social inequality. Lessons learned from youth work indicate that this is possible. 

Youth Work and Poverty Policy Brief

Why youth work must be considered a primary partner in the Scottish Government’s strategy to tackle poverty in Scotland.

How to Tackle Poverty in Scotland

We acknowledge the public commitment within the Scottish Government Tackling Child Poverty Delivery Plan (2022-2026) (henceforth referred to as “The Plan”) to further embed a human rights approach to tackling child poverty – and the commitment to the incorporation of UNCRC into Scots Law. 

However, it is crucial to recognise youth work’s untapped potential to act as a powerful lever in the drive against poverty in Scotland, helping to meet the critical principle of The Plan by ensuring strategic approaches are rooted in dignity, equality and respect for human rights. 

As such, we must create meaningful inclusion and commitment to a personalised education that serves the many. Youth work as a social and educational practice can help deliver this aim. However, overt political action is needed. We believe youth work partnerships between local authorities, voluntary organisations and young people will help deliver the focus needed on young people’s personal, social and educational development. This core national drive would underpin the Scottish Government’s leadership role, following the functions of setting national standards, providing adequate funding and rebuilding a skilled workforce. 

The Role of Youth Work in Tackling Poverty

The critical purpose of youth work is the exploration with young people, individually and in groups, helping to create opportunities in an increasingly bleak and precarious funding landscape. Therefore, it is a national imperative to focus on the needs of young people experiencing poverty, building physical and social skills and creativity and encouraging them to remain hopeful in precarious times. Youth workers can advocate the politics of the common good and demonstrate (in numbers and stories) how good youth work achieves this aim. 

Involving youth work as a more integral partner in tackling poverty can help raise attainment, support family well-being and enable parents and carers to take up or sustain work, training and study. The practice is crucial to tackling child poverty and helping create positive changes in the lives of young people.  

We call on elected representatives to apportion much-needed resources to the youth work sector. In doing so, the Scottish Government can unlock massive potential in its efforts to tackle poverty in Scotland, delivering on its promise to ensure Scotland is the best place in the world for a young person to grow up and help deliver upon the key aims within The Plan.