Help the excluded and we all profit

21st September 2007 at 01:00
The issues of Scotland's young people who are not in education, employment or training, and of youth crime, have been the subject of much heated debate in the popular press of late. Added stimulus has been provided by the Audit Scotland report on tackling youth offending. With these topics firmly on the agenda, it is time to move the debate on, putting the now well-established and frightening facts behind us, and to look at implementing the practical solutions to assist a lost generation of our youngsters.

Almost a fifth of Scotland's young people (including young offenders) need help securing jobs, education and training places one of the highest figures in the developed world and a tremendous waste of human potential. For many of these, their lives are often without hope, mired in poverty and homelessness. They also add to our criminal statistics a situation that ends up costing the country billions of pounds each year.

To address this population makes simple economic sense, as well as creating a healthier society. Research has estimated that the cost to the Government is at least pound;52,000 over the lifetime of a young person not in work, education or training, and considerably more for those who drift into crime and anti-social behaviour.

Earlier this year, we published our Cost of Exclusion report, in conjunction with the Royal Bank of Scotland, which provided further figures on the cost to Scotland of young people on the fringes of society. The results were truly alarming pound;6 million a year in foregone earnings; pound;2 million a week paid in jobseeker's allowance and more than pound;1.2 billion a year in lost earnings. The cost of youth crime amounts to more than pound;92 million every year.

This situation, while challenging, is largely preventable, but it will require clear political determination to address it. Increased investment in early intervention programmes, which are individually tailored to the needs of those most at risk, will prevent them moving into a life of unemployment and potentially into the criminal justice system, and result in them making a worthy contribution to our society.

The Prince's Trust believes in helping young people to help themselves, rather than in handouts and entitlements. Trust programmes work to create opportunities around each youngster they support. A programme for those aged 14-16, "xlerate with xl", aims to tackle schoolchildren who are underachievers, poor attendees or at risk of exclusion the group who go on to become disengaged from society and are potential offenders. This programme actively encourages them to make the most of their time at school, boost their motivation and develop skills for the world of work, and 93 per cent of them move into jobs, continue in education, or move into training.

To invest in early intervention is value for money. The cost of incarcerating a young offender in an institution such as Polmont is more than pound;30,000 a year. The cost of putting someone through a programme such as "xlerate with xl", with a 93 per cent success rate, is pound;500.

Geraldine Gammell is director of The Prince's Trust Scotland

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