Freecompress General election

Now's Their Chance

Carly, Director of Practice at Safer London

It's time for a government that cares about children and young people, places them at the centre of all their decision-making and invests in them, their communities and their futures.

With the general election only a few weeks away, political parties cannot afford to ignore children and young people. 

Children and young people have been let down by the government after a decade of cuts to youth services, the ongoing effects of the cost-of-living crisis and Covid-19 pandemic, housing shortages and a lack of employment opportunities - leaving lasting scars on children and young people across the UK.

The upcoming general election is a chance for the next government to overcome the challenges of violence and exploitation, put young people's priorities back on the agenda, and create positive opportunities for their futures. 

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Director of Practice, Carly, says that the Government needs to put young people at the centre of all their decision-making.

In collaboration with young Londoners, we have set out what we want to see from the next government:

1. End child poverty and deprivation

Any strategy to reduce violence and exploitation must include interventions to tackle poverty, as it serves as a gateway into these issues. Using money to invest in infrastructure that supports children and young people is far more likely to prevent violence and exploitation than any measures that enforce tougher sentences.

The young Londoners we spoke to said that tackling poverty by investing in infrastructure such as the NHS, education and social care offers a real solution to children and young people who are most at risk of violence and exploitation.

Poverty is often the backdrop to exploitation as financial difficulties can easily become entry points for exploitation for children and young people. The chances young people get in life are significantly influenced by their early beginnings, and so the government must invest in policies which seek to end deprivation.

2. Transform the support available for young people with special educational needs and disability (SEND) or learning difficulties

Children and young people with SEND face a higher risk of violence and exploitation if they are not supported. This can leave them susceptible to abuse, trauma and exploitation in their early years of life as they are repeatedly let down by a system that does not recognise their needs.

All young people with SEND should have the same opportunity to meet their potential as children and young people without SEND.

Carly, Director of Practice at Safer London

When speaking to our young Londoners their message was clear; they need our government to 'fix up'. They have grown up in a policy, practice and media landscape which contributes to a hostile environment for children and young people, especially those impacted by exploitation and violence.

3. Put young people’s voices at the heart of decision making

Children and young people who are on the margins of society are often relegated to the sidelines and excluded from having a say in decisions that will affect them. The lack of youth participation in important decisions leads to many young people feeling disempowered, believing that their voices are not going to be heard or that they will not be taken seriously. 

The government needs to reach out to young people, especially those who don’t have access to society’s privileges, to implement successful strategies that respond to young peoples’ needs.

4. Provision of youth centres

The young Londoners we spoke with said that the provision of more youth centres, sports clubs and other youth activities in their area helps them to feel safer, however they rely on financial help from the government to stay open. Youth clubs, services and centres offer young people new opportunities to learn skills make friends and experience new things. Young Londoners have identified these services as important to their wellbeing and growth. 

Therefore, the next government needs to prioritise more extra-curricular opportunities for children and young people.

Of the young Londoners we supported in the last year

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were girls and young women affected by violence and exploitation.

5. Tackle violence against women and girls (VAWG)

56% of the young Londoners we have supported in the last year have been girls and young women affected by violence and exploitation. VAWG is often hidden and based on behaviours that are coercive and controlling which can make it harder to identify and tackle. 

The government must respond so that every young woman and girl can participate fully in life without living in fear of violence.

6. Protect social housing tenants at risk of violence

People affected by violence who live in social housing face a difficult choice – they can either remain at risk or end up becoming homeless. Every year thousands of children and young people become homeless or are threatened with homelessness because of the threat of violence, and our dwindling supply of social housing is accelerating the problem – making it harder to offer urgent moves to safely and permanently rehouse children and young people facing violence. No child or young person should face homelessness because they are threatened with violence. 

It’s time the government prioritised affordable, suitable and safe housing for those who need and rely on it. 

7. Ensure all parents and carers affected by violence and exploitation have access to support and services

Providing parents and carers whose children are affected by violence and exploitation with effective support can be key in reducing further risks for young people.

Parents and carers are a protective factor in their children’s lives and should be seen as such. Unfortunately, they are often forgotten, patronised and judged by social care. Instead, their voices need to be heard, and they should receive support which considers the long-term effect of trauma and which focuses on their wellbeing and resilience. More services are needed for parents and carers. 

The government should build on the the Family Hubs and Start for Life programme, creating opportunities for more support for those with children who are transitioning into adulthood.

The effects of violence and exploitation on the UK’s youth is devastating. Not only can it result in life-altering physical harm, but it can create profound psychological damage, disrupt young people’s life trajectories and perpetuate cycles of breakdown and instability within communities.

We need a government that tackles this issue and creates a society that better meets the needs of young people.

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One day we hope that our services won’t be needed. Until then, you can help us make sure the voices and needs of children and young people are at the top of the agenda for the next government.

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