Yesterday, I was invited to the First Minister’s Anti-Poverty Summit in Edinburgh. I was so pleased to be invited and think this shows how much SYP continues to be valued by the most senior politicians in Scotland.
It was great to be part of a conversation on an issue of such importance to young people and to SYP. Other attendees included representatives from across the public, private and third sectors but also the leaders of all of Scotland’s political parties. There was a great discussion at the event, and several real, tangible ideas in the room that could help alleviate poverty.
Young people are often told by politicians and adults in positions of authority that they are valued and respected. Whilst this sentiment is welcome, what really matters is showing them, by delivering on the things that matter to us – and there is much progress to be made on that.
Access to food was repeatedly raised at the event, including by me. Young people have a right to access good food, which is healthy and comes with dignity and choice whilst also respecting their individual needs. As I explained yesterday, in SYP’s ‘Young People’s Right to Food’ report, 75% of respondents told us that expanding free school meals to secondary schools would help ensure they can access their right to food. While this alone isn’t enough, this crisis can only be improved when we also remove the stigma that those in poverty face and we think free school meals could be a key part of that.
Another area I highlighted to the Summit was the link between children and young people’s rights and poverty. If incorporated, the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child would place a legal duty on government and public bodies to tackle the worst of poverty. I urged all of the MSPs in the room yesterday to work together to ensure the UNCRC Bill is brought back to The Scottish Parliament as a matter of urgency. I told them, frankly, that we have already waited far too long.
The final issue that I raised was one that is far too often overlooked: youth work.
Youth work is a route out of poverty for young people. Passionate and dedicated youth workers across the country help us develop life skills that lead to jobs and opportunities, all while having fun and making new friends. Youth work is a lot more than that too – it’s someone to listen to problems, someone to provide support and encouragement, someone to look out for those most vulnerable in our society. But if youth work is going to play the role we so desperately need it to, it needs properly resourced and funded with an overarching strategy to help support the sector.
The harsh reality is that, across Scotland, local authorities are struggling to fund vital youth work services, and cuts are happening right now. If the Scottish Government and local authorities don’t act urgently, and collaboratively, we will see the kind of decimation of these vital lifeline services that has already happened in England. So, I urged the national and local politicians to work together to find solutions to these challenges and take action – before it is too late.