Young people need our support

Lorraine McLaren, Director of Wheatley Foundation, explains why Wheatley is determined to offer young people every opportunity in life.

Modern Apprentices

The Scottish Government has declared 2018 the Year of Young People.

It has celebrated the talents and achievements of our young people, and given them a platform to get their voices heard on the issues that affect them.

But I know today’s young people also face huge barriers to getting on in life.

Work is hard to find, zero hours and short term contracts are on the rise. People aged between 16 and 24 are twice as likely to be out of work than any other age group.

Research from the Institute for Fiscal Studies last week showed that those in their thirties were hardest-hit by the 2008 financial crash. House prices have soared and those who make it to university are graduating with thousands of pounds of debt. No wonder home ownership for the under 30s is at an all-time low.

Those who are already vulnerable suffer the most. There are now around 220,000 people in Scotland under the age of 30 who are living in poverty. Half of homeless applicants here are under 30. The situation presents a real challenge for our young people and for the sector.

We all know how important a home is. It gives people the confidence and stability they need to go into employment, education, training or volunteering.

At Wheatley, one of the ways we are helping address the crisis is through our new-build programme which is increasing the supply of new homes for social rent.

We have also hugely increased our offerings of homes for mid market rent through our commercial subsidiary, Lowther Homes. Mid market rent homes offer people on modest incomes good-quality, affordable homes for rent and they are proving popular with young people.

But it is about more than addressing housing supply. We need to address the drivers of poverty, deprivation and homelessness that continue to hold our young people back.

Jobs, education and training places are key ways we can give vulnerable young people the chance they need to make a difference. The establishment of our charitable trust, the Wheatley Foundation means we can now do much more for our young people.

Our award-winning Modern Apprenticeship programme has helped more than 300 people get a foot on the career ladder – whether that is in housing, outdoors in our environmental teams, or in care. The Wheatley Pledge means our contractors provide training and employment to people who live in our communities.

We have also helped more than 100 people from our homes into further and higher education through our bursary programme, breaking down the financial barriers they face.

We have supported people to study medicine, law, engineering and social work. One young woman told us our support “felt like a miracle”, saying she could now build a better life for her two small children.

Our new Environmental Roots programme was set up, with the support of the Scottish Government, to give really excluded young people the chance to get the skills they need to apply for our Environmental Apprenticeship and, eventually, a job in our Environmental team. One young man started with us after a spell in prison. We were the first people to give him a chance. Now he can pay his rent, and is starting to rebuild his relationship with his child – giving them both a much brighter future.

One of the most disadvantaged groups of young people are those leaving care. In fact, leaving care is behind 6% of homeless applications in Scotland and over the past 40 years, outcomes for this group have remained devastatingly poor.

Our new allocations policy gives increased priority to young people leaving care. But we are always looking for new ways to make a difference. Wheatley Group is a passionate supporter of MCR Pathways, a pioneering mentoring scheme that supports children in and leaving care. We encourage our staff to give up an hour of their week to mentor a young person.

The results are extraordinary, with the rate of mentored young people staying in school after the age of 16 rising to 79 per cent.

The tragedy of deprivation is not just people struggling to eat, stay warm and put a roof over their head; it also holds them back from achieving what they are capable of.

I know we can build a stronger and fairer economy through our young people, but we all need to work together to remove the obstacles in their way. A home is just the start.

Pictured at top of page: Young people who have joined Wheatley's Modern Apprentice programme in 2018

Pictured above: Lorraine McLaren

Wednesday, September 19, 2018