Missing from the manifestos?

Friday 17 April 2015

Mark Gale headshotWith just three weeks to go the General Election, the political parties have made their pitches to convince voters to support them on May 7th.

With long lists of promises, the manifestos are designed to appeal to as many people as possible. It is therefore perhaps more interesting to ask: ‘what is missing?'. 

What young women tell Young Women’s Trust is that they do not yet believe that all the parties are listening to them and are really committed to making a difference to their lives. A few weeks ago Nadine wrote about why she feels she needs to vote so that her voice can be heard. Young women have been the group least likely to vote in previous elections - that’s why we have been supporting the campaign to encourage young people to register to vote and if you haven’t done so already we would urge you to register before the deadline on 20 April to make sure your voice can be heard.

We are pleased that all the manifestos talk about young people and about issues that affect young people but we are also concerned that the proposals fall short of what young women tell us they need. Labour has promised a National Primary Childcare Service, the Liberal Democrats have proposed extending free childcare to parents of 2 and 3 year olds; and the Conservatives have offered 30 hours of free childcare for 3-4 year olds. It is important that the parties are trying to address the important issue of childcare, and the debate is welcome, but even these proposals fall short of the year round support that many young women have told us they need to do the work that would allow them to support their families.

Similarly, we are pleased that there is a focus on careers advice and broadening young people’s horizons: the Conservatives promise to use Job Centre Staff to support schools careers advice, Labour have offered  ‘to increase funding for face-to-face careers advice’ and the Liberal Democrats plan to build links between schools and employers to help young people into work. Some of these policies may well benefit young people but the final report for our ‘Scarred for Life’ Inquiry showed that young women, in particular, need access to support and advice that will provide the second chances they need to find work after they have left school.

And all parties say they want to see more apprentices. It is encouraging that there is so much attention on developing apprenticeships as a real opportunity for young people to develop skills and carve out careers. So, in the manifestos we hear promises to create three million new apprenticeships (Conservatives); guarantee an apprenticeship for all young people (Labour); improve the quality of apprenticeships (Liberal Democrats); or offer young people the chance to do apprenticeships instead of some GCSEs (UKIP). However, our report has already argued that any policies will have limited impact unless they explicitly take into account the often distinct needs of young women.

It is still the case that two thirds of women apprentices are working in just five, often low paid, sectors such as health and social care whilst the same proportion of men are working in 10 sectors giving them many more opportunities for the future. Over the coming months Young Women’s Trust will be investigating what prevents young women accessing the same breadth of apprenticeship opportunities as young men. The Liberal Democrat manifesto mentioned they will try to understand how to make apprenticeships more accessible to a wider range of people, including young women. We will be urging all parties to ensure that all of their polices are based on an understanding of what would make a difference to young women.