A young person, or in fact anyone’s, life chances should not be a postcode lottery. Where someone grew up, their family background or previous negative and damaging experiences should not define them.
However, the recent issues involving the exam results of young people in Scotland and the rest of the UK sadly show and reflect the inequality and attainment gaps that exist between people from wealthier and poorer areas. When systems designed and intended to be “fair and credible” result in in disproportionately affecting young people from areas of deprivation, society needs to stop and take note. Algorithms and AI systems will never get this right while young people from deprived areas continue to be left behind.
We know young people from poorer areas already have the odds stacked against them. Scottish government figures show last year, before COVID-19, only 43.5% of children from the most deprived areas got at least one Higher compared to 79.3% of children from the least deprived areas. Research also shows young people from poor families are also three times less likely to be in a job or course after leaving school. And less likely to keep a job.
Achieving good results at school despite the challenges of living in areas of multiple deprivation can be an important lifeline to having a better life. Young people should be judged on their individual performances and efforts and not the address of their school or family.
A fair and credible system would see individuals from poor areas enjoy a fair chance to earn the same grades as their better-off peers. Instead, this year’s U-turn on moderated results has made clear what we’ve always known – that young people’s chances depend too much on the levels of deprivation they grow up in.
This stark revelation of the role poverty plays in people’s chances should make us take a good hard look at the system that creates it. This is partly about investment in schools, but it is also about investment in communities and individuals. Growing up in poverty creates barriers for people that the better off do not have to face. Removing these barriers - poor mental health, loss of confidence, lack of role models – will support young people to succeed in education.
We also acknowledge school is not the perfect fit for every young person. For those who do struggle as a result of barriers and challenges such as chaotic and unstable environments, school might not be a lifeline. Other pathways need to be available for them.
At Venture Trust we specialise in working and supporting young people for whom school has been a struggle or have left school because they are dealing with issues like alcohol and drug misuse, poor family relationships, mental health issues, learning and housing issues.
The young people we work with first require significant investment to achieve greater stability – addressing chaotic or destructive behaviours to become ready for training and employment so that they can sustain a job.
Our personal development and learning support for young people helps them set out and achieve their goals, grow in confidence and stability. We help participants to work on skills such as establishing trust, personal boundaries, consequential thinking, problem-solving, dealing with challenging situations, and responsibility and accountability. These life skills need to be acquired before long-term unemployment and the issues this brings can be tackled.
We will sustain our support when restrictions are eased by restarting our innovative Change Cycle employability programme with our delivery partners The Bike Station and Bike for Good. [The programme has been paused during the pandemic.] Working around guidelines, the elements of the programme will include employability sessions, bike construction and maintenance including workshop experience and a short outdoor residential that has work-related tasks, and biking. In the meantime, our employability team continue supporting young people through digital workshops and physical distanced face-to face meetings to help them into jobs, training, study and volunteering.
We have released our independent evaluation that shows with the appropriate and sustained support young people from deprived areas can find a path that is right for them.
We're very proud of this report which shows the success of our Change Cycle programme - and especially we're very proud of our participants for achieving these results. In the current climate, we know that many young people will be looking for support in getting into work. Change Cycle will continue running to offer this support to as many people as we can reach.
Read the full evaluation report here: Evaluation of the Venture Trust’s CashBack Change Cycle 2017-2020
Andrew Russell is Venture Trust's Head of Programme Performance and Impact
We are proud to launch the independent evaluation of our youth employability programme - Cashback Change Cycle.
A programme that has engaged and supported more than 200 young people from disadvantaged and deprived areas of Scotland move towards a positive future.
With three-year funding from The Scottish Government through its CashBack for Communities, we developed the CashBack Change Cycle (CBCC) programme, an innovative employability programme in partnership with The Bike Station in Edinburgh and Bike for Good in Glasgow. The elements of the programme included employability sessions, bike construction and maintenance including workshop experience and a short wilderness residential that has work-related tasks, and biking.
It was a programme designed to reach those young people aged 16-24 who were not in education, training or employment. This included young people who face multiple barriers to their career progression, such as involvement with the criminal justice system, homelessness, alcohol and drug use, poor mental health, caring responsibilities, a care-experienced background or early social work involvement.
After three years, Rocket Science has produced an independent evaluation report that highlights the impacts of the programme.
It works. That is why we are continuing to run the programme.
There are many agencies getting young people ready for work but most of those young adults already have the soft skills to engage in training or to start working. The people Venture Trust help first require significant investment to achieve greater stability – addressing chaotic or destructive behaviours to become ready for training and employment so that they can sustain a job.
They are often dealing with one or more of the following: poverty, alcohol and drug addiction, poor family relationships, mental health issues, learning and housing issues. The majority also have had little or no work experience.
The programme aimed to help participants increase their motivation and self-confidence, develop vocational and employability skills, and support their progression towards work, training or study, increasing the stability of their lives.
The outcomes achieved by young people throughout the three years of the programme show the powerful and positive impact of innovative and person-centred support.
Nearly all the targets were exceeded but more importantly the young people we worked with rode away with a new bike armed with the skills, motivation and confidence to break the cycle of disadvantage holding them back.
Despite youth unemployment figures in Scotland having dropped significantly when the programme was launched, almost 4000 young people remained long-term unemployed because they lack the very basic life skills needed to begin working towards securing and sustaining a job.
Now with the impact of Covid-19 is being felt heavily by young people in Scotland, especially on their future employment prospects a programme like CashBack Change Cycle is never more needed. For those young people who were furthest away from the job market before the coronavirus crisis, inequalities are likely to get worse before they get better. Solutions that include the voices of young people are integral to ensure they are not left behind.
Read the full evaluation report here: Evaluation of the Venture Trust’s CashBack Change Cycle 2017-2020
With the easing of lockdown, we have resumed face-to-face work with participants.
This will be one-to-one and in outdoor spaces observing physical distancing. Our staff are using public greenspaces local to those people we are working with. While initially the number of participants staff can meet will be limited, we have ensured all those who want and need physical meetings will get it.
Safely – under the Scottish Government’s route map – we can start building back better by being there in person.
For many of the people we support the ability to meet their worker face-to-face will be a huge boost to their wellbeing, learning and development. We know being cut off physically from their Venture Trust key worker has proved difficult and stressful. In addition, regular meetings with social workers, addiction counsellors, mentors and community workers could no longer take place in person. This further disrupted partnerships between organisations supporting Scotland’s most vulnerable.
Venture Trust director of operations Mike Strang says:
“The act of social connection – walking and talking, sharing life’s struggles and looking at options to make changes (even at a physical distance) – will be invaluable and beneficial for both those needing and those delivering support. Our staff will offer participants support and guidance, connecting them with services and opportunities in their local communities, and helping them to make and sustain positive changes in their lives.
"Working with a network of local partners, organisations and services, participants will be able to access the best possible package of support and opportunities.”
We discovered during the coronavirus crisis that the impacts, including reduced social contact, self-isolation and disruption of services, had a disproportionate effect on people who were already struggling with complex life circumstances.
In response we adapted so we could continue to be there. We turned our services outside – in, moving from group-based personal development in Scotland’s outdoors and in communities to working with smart technology to reach those who needed help most in their own homes. Phone calls, video chats and text messages replaced meeting face-to-face. And for those who could use those lifelines, help has still been available. This digital service continued to reach more than 300 people.
But we also found that for too many people the capacity to reach help was throttled by data poverty. They didn’t have the kit, data capacity or skills to reach support services. This further isolated and continues to cut off those who need the most help. In response we will continue to advocate and work to alleviate data poverty alongside other organisations, government, funders and partners.
So, as we start to see restrictions lift, we will begin to move towards our ‘new normal’: returning to our core programmes while keeping the best bits of learning from the last three months to build back better. By blending our physical and digital services we can provide the best possible offer of support for those who need it most.
Venture Trust along with over 200 organisations across the UK, has signed an open letter to the Prime Minister, calling on the Government to publicly commit to a new Opportunity Guarantee.
The UK is experiencing the biggest economic crisis in 300 years, and on Tuesday 16th June latest figures are expected to show the highest rate of unemployment in over 100 years.
The new Opportunity Guarantee scheme, backed by some of the UK’s biggest employers, would help to kick start the UK’s economic recovery by investing in jobs of the future, helping people access the jobs market, and providing opportunities for young people.
The open letter, signed by cross industry partners - including The Prince’s Trust, Heathrow Airport, Asda, universities and charities – has political backing from Metro Mayors Steve Rotheram (Liverpool City Region), Dan Jarvis (Sheffield City Region) and Jamie Driscoll (North of Tyne Combined Authority).
Together, over 200 voices called on Government to invest in a new Opportunity Guarantee that:
- Promotes job creation by investing in the jobs that we need for the future
- Doubles the capacity in services that help people into jobs, with greatest support for those facing disadvantage
- Provides an education place, apprenticeship, or job for every young person
Commenting on the open letter, Lord Bob Kerslake said: “The message to Government is clear – with the Jobs retention Scheme winding up, we must invest in an Opportunities Guarantee. We need to create opportunities for people to skill up, and have a guaranteed role in our economic recovery, and we must put these plans in place now.”
Venture Trust CEO Amelia Morgan said: “We need to act now and invest in an Opportunities Guarantee to protect more futures. We know from the evidence of the 2008 financial crash that if we do nothing the economic impact of this crisis will fall disproportionately on poor families and communities, and on young people at the start of their careers. Investing in young people, especially those at significant risk of being left behind, will enable us to support them to build the skills and foundations for greater resilience whilst they navigate taking up training opportunities or maximising their chances of getting in, and staying in work.”
Digital services are the only services now
People who needed help from local services, charities and the public sector have been cut off from that help by lockdown. Regular meetings with social workers, addiction counsellors, mentors and community workers can no longer take place in person. Phone calls, video chats and text messages have replaced meeting face-to-face. For those who can use these lifelines, help is still available. But for too many people, the capacity to reach that help is throttled by data poverty. Giving people the kit, data capacity and skills to reach these services is vital to ensure they can get the help they need.
Like many charities and service providers, Venture Trust has moved from in person support to contacting our participants digitally. That’s brought technical challenges and requires us to embrace new ways of working. That’s to be expected, and we are continuing to adapt. But a service is only as good as it is accessible. Being cut-off is no good in a crisis.
Data poverty isolates those who need the most help
One in eight of our participants don’t have the hardware to connect – that’s no smartphone, no computer, no tablet. Even if you have the hardware, that doesn’t guarantee internet access – over half of the people we work with don’t have access to Wi-Fi, 38% only have limited data plans and 27% - over 1 in 4 – don’t have any access to data at all. Even a simple phone call can be out of reach for some. Close to half, (44%) of our participants eke out Pay As You Go minutes while 25% did not have any available minutes to make calls when our staff got in touch with them.
Without the hardware or data access to get online, or even just the wherewithal to make a phone call, people are cut off from services just as they need them most. Data poverty was already holding people back in the pre-Covid19 world. Now that data access is a necessity to engage with the rest of the world, people in poverty are at severe risk of being cut-off from the support and the relationships they need to survive lockdown.
Scotland can keep people connected
There is an immediate need to alleviate data poverty. Thanks to our funders, we have been able to give out data poverty grants to 48 people supporting them to get the equipment or data they need to stay in touch with us, with other support services and with their friends and family. We also work with charities like PeopleKnowHow, who give people the hardware they need to get online. But we’re a small charity and this is a drop in the ocean. There is a great deal more to do and it will need a concerted effort by the third sector, the public sector and the private sector to get it done. The ConnectingScotland programme is doing good work making sure those who are at clinically high-risk are able to get online and reach services. This is vital work, but does not address those who, while not at high-risk directly from the virus, are suffering from the effects of lockdown itself - cut off from vital services like addiction counselling, social work or benefits advice. Disruption from these services can be a severe setback in people’s progress towards putting their past behind them and reaching their full potential.