Taking On The Debate

Tuesday 30 September 2014

SarahAs Young Women’s Trust’s debut at the political party conferences comes to a close, I feel both elated and realistic. Whilst we organised engaging and hopefully memorable events at both the Labour and Conservative Party Conferences, undoubtedly attracting new supporters and partnerships, we also got a sense of how foreign our messages are to seasoned political audiences.

Discussions of welfare dependency, youth unemployment and child poverty have seemingly earned a rightful place in these carefully orchestrated forums. Yet, the harsh realities of young women’s worklessness - including hyper-feminised and over-subscribed, low paid industries and the fact that motherhood in the 21st Century still creates very real barriers to employment - are not widely recognised in mainstream political circles.

How can we talk about welfare without talking about the common cycle of low pay, worklessness and depression that blights so many young people? How can we talk about youth unemployment without talking about a lack of part-time jobs and affordable childcare that directly prohibit many young women from entering the workforce?

The number of young women not ‘earning or learning’ as the phrase goes, has, on average, been 130,000 higher than that for young men for the last ten years. Yet unemployment and welfare policies consistently fail to acknowledge or address this clear gender gap and the disproportionate long-term impact on women’s lives.

David Cameron’s big conference announcement to remove entitlement of Job Seeker’s Allowance from 18 to 21 year olds who fail to find a job in six months may go some way in reducing actual youth unemployment numbers. However, unfortunately, this initiative will do little to reduce the growing trend of in-work poverty and gender stereotyping experienced by so many working class young women. And whilst the investment in apprenticeships with the savings from the cuts to welfare benefit are a seemingly welcome outcome, few young women will likely benefit from them if these apprenticeships continue on their current trend of being clustered in male dominated industries.

Regardless of how many times we need to present the raw facts, or repeat, justify and explain our work for and with young disadvantaged women, we will continue to do so until they are heard in the spaces that matter. We remain determined to move these well-versed and all too familiar policy debates on because they consistently fail to acknowledge young women’s contribution, livelihood and worth in society.