Three important features of a Social Guarantee for young people

Reading ‘The Case for Universal Basic Services’ was a revelation for me. But I couldn’t help but feel there was something crucial missing from the book. In the constellation of services discussed and defended, education and youth services make only the briefest appearance.


This is perfectly understandable. Education for young people is already a universal service in the UK and has been since 1880. Why waste words on an argument that has already been won? As the Social Guarantee develops, however, I think there’s an exciting opportunity to build on these historic victories. As highlighted in our recent book, Young People on the Margins, Education and youth services are in dire need of extension and development to support a prosperous and sustainable society. Here are three ways I think the Social Guarantee can help do this -


1. Emphasise Early Intervention


Currently schools frequently find themselves struggling to support students who have several overlapping needs. The same student may suffer from low literacy, poor attendance and poor mental health. Managing each of these individual needs is costly and often ineffective. However, if we travel upstream, then we find that these multiple negative social and educational outcomes often have singular, common sources.


For example, low antenatal birth weight can lead to underdeveloped cognitive abilities in later childhood, leading to lower academic outcomes followed by increased risk of health disorders such as obesity and coronary heart disease.


Thankfully trajectories such as this can be disrupted by early intervention from the right medical, social and educational services. Giving these services the resources and capabilities to deliver effective early identification and intervention must therefore be at the cornerstone of the Social Guarantee for young people. This will support a large improvement on the status quo for marginalised young people.


True to the ethos of the Social Guarantee, this approach is more than just logical and ethical – it is also prudent. As calculated by the NEF, investment in high quality early childhood intervention can save the public purse in excess of a trillion pounds over the course of 20 years.


2. Normalise Co-production of Services with Young People


Service-users often have profound and practical insights into how a particular service can be improved. This is just as true of young people as it is of adults. Services under the Social Guarantee need to build in structures and opportunities for this youth voice to be captured and utilised in their planning and delivery.


Youth voice can lead to tangible improvements in service delivery. At The Centre for Education and Youth we have recently conducted research into improving youth services in Brighton using extensive youth consultations. Young people offered clear and actionable guidance on service improvements, for example better signposting of services in areas where young people congregate and clearer listings of times when youth workers are available.


Beyond yielding insights to improve service quality, the use of co-production can help services build strong and sympathetic relations with the young, inspiring them to grow up and play a role in public service themselves. This is central to building the community spirit necessary to support a sustainable economy fit for the 21st century.


3. Prepare Young People for Community Wealth Building


Community Wealth Building - a suite of policies aimed at redirecting wealth communities generate back into the local economy - is central to the Social Guarantee. Two of the main planks for achieving Community Wealth Building are a ‘well-paid and highly skilled workforce’ and ‘Economic Democracy’. Both features depend on an education system that meets local as well as national economic and civic priorities. For example:

  • Seamless coordination between businesses, services, government and educational institutions in each local area allows for the development of local ‘skills plans’ guiding local schools and colleges and higher education institutions. The plans ensure that young people are given opportunities to develop skills that meet the needs and ambitions of the local community. For example, Preston’s ‘Central Skills and Employment plan’ has allowed the local council to map training in construction to needs in their planned economy for building of new houses and new commercial floorspace. Young people in Preston now find valuable and fulfilling work in their local area, encouraging them to stay and build community wealth rather than needing to move to other economic hubs. Long-term, this can drive the virtuous circle of community wealth building at the local level.

  • School curricula can support young people to develop the competences necessary for participation in economic democracy. Young people will need the knowledge to make effective decisions on local economic issues – for example, an understanding of key concepts in microeconomics and the history of the local area. At the same time, they will need to develop skills to apply this knowledge. These skills will need to be in discussion and debate, as necessary for deliberative democracy. This will require habituating young people to collective decision making from early on – for example through some youth-led decision making within schools or through youth social action.

Conclusion


Young people are often marginalised in society, at the bottom of policymaker’s list of important stakeholders. The Social Guarantee must invert this orthodoxy, putting young people at the centre of developing a prosperous, sustainable future for our planet. From my perspective, it can achieve this through a focus on early intervention, use of youth voice and installing systems that support young people in preparation for community wealth building. However, deciding how else the Social Guarantee can support young people will will involve careful thought and discussion and I warmly invite people interested in advancing this agenda to get in touch with me to discuss next steps.


Baz Ramaiah is an Associate at the Centre For Education and Youth