Ignored and in danger: young people failed by a broken system

Press release: 9th December 2014

Ignored and in danger: young people failed by a broken system 
Young people call for wholesale changes to ensure authorities respect their rights and protect them from harm
Young people are being let down by authorities who won’t listen to them and are systematically disregarding their rights to save money at a time of austerity. The worst culprits include the very services set up to protect and support them – such as social services, homelessness services and JobCentre Plus. As a result, thousands of vulnerable young people are being left exposed to homelessness, destitution, abuse and exploitation.
This is the shock conclusion arrived at by young people themselves, hundreds of whom have come together to say ‘enough is enough’ and produced a new manifesto, entitled Make Our Rights Reality. 
Alarming new figures uncovered by JustRights appear to back up young people’s claims that they are being routinely left to fend for themselves by a system that doesn’t care. These show that:
Each year, 2.3 million young people aged 16-24 experience a serious rights-related problem (such as homelessness, debt, benefit issues or unfair dismissal)
93% of young people with these problems receive no help from professional independent advice services (such as a Citizens Advice Bureau, a youth advice agency or a solicitor)
Two-thirds of young people believe the Government doesn’t want them to know their rights
In the manifesto, young people stress that they want to be able to help themselves as far as possible but simply don’t understand their rights and don’t know where to turn for help. 
James Kenrick, Co-Chair of JustRights, said:
“We as a society have an expectation that young people in need will be supported by statutory authorities. Unfortunately, as we have seen consistently in recent sexual exploitation scandals, far too often young people encounter a culture in which services fail to listen and routinely disregard their rights. 
“As young people rightly say in the manifesto “It should be illegal to put the interests of the system above the rights and protection of young people.” Upholding young people’s rights is a matter of child protection, but it is equally about access to justice, addressing poverty and the state of our democracy. We cannot allow the next generation to effectively become disenfranchised through the silent withdrawal of their rights. Thankfully, young people themselves are now making a stand – we should all listen to them and we should support them.”
Published on the eve of International Human Rights Day (10th December), and just two weeks after the 25th anniversary of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, young people are calling for wholesale changes to the way their rights are protected, including:
Improving access to young person-friendly advice services and lawyers
Sorting out the problems in ‘the system’ – such as unfair benefit sanctions, rip-off payday loans and unlawful homelessness decisions – that are causing their problems in the first place
Ensuring young people are taught about their rights as part of the National Curriculum
The manifesto makes a modest plea from young people: “We aren’t asking to change the world. We just want to be given the help and support we need so that we can get on in life and become good citizens”
To gather support for their campaign, young people have also launched a petition calling on the Government to carry out an urgent review of young people’s access to information, advice and legal support. 
Read the manifesto:  Summary     Full version
Watch the film: link to follow
1. About ‘Make Our Rights Reality’
Make Our Rights Reality is a manifesto and campaign that has been developed by hundreds of young people all over England who participated in working groups, focus groups, a national survey and a youth editorial board. The development of the manifesto has been co-ordinated by Youth Access on behalf of JustRights and made possible thanks to funding from The Baring Foundation and Youth Access. 
2. About JustRights
JustRights is a coalition of charities campaigning for fair access for children and young people to advice, advocacy and legal representation. Founded in 2009 by Children’s Rights Alliance for England, The Howard League for Penal Reform, Law Centres Network and Youth Access, it is now a coalition of 25 organisations.
3.   About Youth Access 
Youth Access is the national membership organisation for young people's information, advice, counselling and support services (YIACS).
4. Data
The figures of 2.3 million young people aged 16-24 experiencing a serious rights-related problem and 93% of young people receiving no help from professional independent advice services come from reanalysis by JustRights of data from the 2010-2012 Civil and Social Justice Panel Survey, which is a large national household survey.
The figure of two-thirds of young people believe the Government doesn’t want them to know their rights comes from Young people’s views on rights and advice services: results of a national survey to inform JustRights’ young people’s manifesto, published by JustRights in October 2014. http://justrights.org.uk/node/36 
5. Further information
For more information, case studies and access to interviewees, please call: 
James Kenrick - 020 8772 9900 ext. 25 / 07535 344881; james@youthaccess.org.uk 
Supporting statements from members of the JustRights coalition 
Barbara Rayment, Director of Youth Access:
“Young people’s rights are too often an illusion – and unattainable by those in the greatest need. Improving access to high quality, independent advice, advocacy and representation is now urgent if we are to avoid a further deterioration in levels of youth homelessness, poverty and disengagement. We all have a duty to ensure young people’s rights are made a reality.”
Laura Janes, Acting Legal Director of The Howard League for Penal Reform and Co-Chair of JustRights:
“It is now clear that cuts to services, including legal aid and advice services, have left young people at a double disadvantage, unable to access legal protection they are entitled to. The manifesto is a timely call from young people to leaders to make sure that the law is not something that is just there to punish young people but something that can help young people to change their lives for the better.” 
Carolyn Osbourne, Young People’s Programme Manager, Law Centres Network:
“This manifesto is more than a wish-list for young people. As it was driven by young people, it offers real insight into what they need so that they are not let down by the system. Law Centres endorse this manifesto and will continue to empower young people to access justice.”
Paola Uccellari, Director of The Children’s Rights Alliance for England (CRAE):
“Children and young people have human rights to be protected from harm and abuse and a right to decent housing. We believe that human rights are the most powerful tool in making life better for children. But these rights mean very little if children and young people are unable to even find out about them, let alone enforce them, because they are unable to access legal advice and assistance. That’s why CRAE is backing the JustRights Manifesto and urging Government to make rights a reality for children and young people by ensuring they have access to information, advice and legal support.”
Baljeet Sandhu, Migrant Children’s Legal Unit:
“The JustRights Manifesto is the voice of young people telling us loud and clear what they need to survive and thrive. They want, and need, access to specialist, independent, age-appropriate information so they can participate on an equal footing and in a meaningful way in decisions that impact their lives. These young voices cannot be ignored, to do so may place their lives in danger, expose them to harm and impede their life chances.” 
Lucie Russell, Director of Campaigns and Media, YoungMinds:
“Young people find it really hard to understand and navigate the world they are a part of as young citizens. If they are suffering distress and mental health issues this makes everything even more complicated and painful to manage. Young people must have the right to be listened to, cared for and supported. YoungMinds backs this campaign and wishes it every success with meeting its goals.”
Just for Kids Law:
“The children we work with are all but invisible to policy makers. They are acutely vulnerable, and find it increasingly difficult to get the help they need, and to which they are often legally entitled. We need to ensure their voices are heard in a way that politicians cannot ignore.”
Coram Children’s Legal Centre: 
“Coram Children’s Legal Centre fights for children and young people’s rights. We know that having rights doesn’t mean much if you can’t actually realise these rights or enforce them in your own life. Decision-makers should listen to young people telling them how we can change the system to make rights a reality and ensure that every young person gets the legal advice and support they need and deserve.”
Coram Voice:
"Coram Voice fully supports what children and young people say in Make Our Rights Reality. The experience of Coram Voice in providing advice and advocacy services highlights the need for children and young people to be given information about their rights, to be empowered and provided with specialist help to navigate the system for their rights to be met, and where necessary, to be referred to a specialist lawyer"
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Publication date: 
Monday, December 8, 2014