Stuart McMillan: We must tackle inequality, poverty and other social challenges
There is a growing acknowledgement that people’s quality of life should be as important as the economic wellbeing and growth of a country. However, as we move into a new decade an independent economic report released in January shows that Scotland slipped to the bottom third of OECD countries in terms of wellbeing.
Tackling inequality, poverty and other social challenges such as homelessness, addiction, isolation and the harm of crime needs to be at the heart of future Government policy and budgeting. The slide in wellbeing must be redressed and a cycle of harm and inequality which is leaving some people in the margins of Scottish society confronted.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon recently said: “Scotland is redefining what it means to be a successful nation by focusing on the broader wellbeing of the population as well as the GDP of the country.
“The goal and objective of all economic policy should be collective wellbeing. This broader approach is at the very heart of our economic strategy which gives equal importance to tackling inequality as economic competitiveness.”
Is this possible? The answer is yes. But we need to redouble our efforts, across public, private and third sectors to support those people struggling with their wellbeing and who are furthest from the job market. Importantly, we also need to address how policies and systems can leave some people behind and create further barriers to new learning, employment or volunteering.
At Venture Trust, many of the individuals seeking help come from life circumstances where they are not given the best start. They are often dealing with one or more of the following – poverty, alcohol and drug addiction, poor family relationships, mental health issues, and the risk, or reality, of homelessness.
The majority also have limited or no work experience. For the young people we support this often means they have not been able to excel in school and leave with a significant dent in their confidence and motivation to engage with training or to start working. They are not in a great place.
A recently released report from The Prince’s Trust and Govia Thameslink Railway – Futures at Stake 2020 – reveals some startling figures. These include that 56 per cent of employers believe Scottish school leavers don’t have the soft skills required for work and almost half of employers believe there is a skills shortage in the UK.
The people Venture Trust help first require significant investment to achieve greater stability and resilience to feel well and ready for training and employment so that they can sustain a job or a college course.
Venture Trust addresses these challenges through support and personal development in communities and in the Scottish wilderness. We work on building trust and helping individuals to see themselves and their potential differently. Following this, young people can progress to more employability-focused support including problem solving, working in a team and curiosity to learn as well as job search, applications and interview preparation.
For example, our Change Cycle programme includes employability sessions, bike construction and maintenance including workshop experience and a short residential that includes a work and cycling component. Participants learn about responsibility and getting up to be at a job Monday to Friday. They get to keep the bike they have built and use it for job hunting, accessing services, training, getting to work, and leisure.
Of the 67 young people who have been through the programme since April 2019, 24 have already moved on to education, vocational training, volunteering roles or employment. We want this opportunity to be available to more young people.
This year we are launching additional employability support for everyone who comes to Venture Trust for support. The new sessions provide guidance with finding work as well as helping people apply for jobs, access training, education and volunteering opportunities. Various seminars will also focus on CV writing, interview techniques, disclosing convictions and strategies to transition into work, especially in those early days of starting a job.
If Scotland is to put collective wellbeing of people at the front and centre of the nation’s ‘quality of life’, then organisations working with people struggling with complex life circumstances will be crucial for our real sense of wellbeing and success.
This is a continuous challenge and as the Scottish Budget is released, for the long-term unemployed – with person-centred support to tackle issues and barriers, and with the time to build trust, confidence and skills – need to be on the agenda.
Then, in the words of the First Minister, “we can focus on a wider set of measures which reflect on things like the health and happiness of citizens as well as economic wealth to create a world that considers the quality of a person’s life to be as precious an asset as financial success”.
For more information about Venture Trust’s programmes visit www.venturetrust.org.uk
Stuart McMillan is an operations manager at Venture Trust.