Rob Wilson on youth social action

The Minister for Civil Society spoke at a Cabinet Office event to celebrate youth social action at the Royal Overseas League.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

Rob Wilson

It’s a pleasure to be here today to celebrate the recent achievements in youth social action with so many of you.

Since I took over this job last year I’ve had the honour of speaking at a number of prestigious venues. Now I can add this place to that list. The Royal Overseas League. It sounds a bit like an international polo competition.

Now, normally in competitions we focus on the winners. [Political content removed]. But sometimes in life there are occasions for everyone to be the victor. And that’s how I see it for all those involved with youth social action.

Our young people being the change they want to see in the world. Our next generation developing the skills and gaining the experience they need to fulfil their potential. Our communities benefitting from great projects that enrich their local areas.

Social action brings out the best in our young people. And I’m here today to thank you for your role in making it happen. To the providers who’ve worked with us to deliver innovative programmes. To the supporters who’ve match-funded or are helping to sustain these initiatives.But most of all to the participants, who’ve taken up these opportunities.

I’m delighted to see some of you here – even on a school day. But there’s a good reason for missing school. We’re here to celebrate the tremendous work and effort that have gone into making these programmes such a success. It’s a credit to you all.

Government support and evidence

Today we’ve got representatives from across 3 of our funds:

  • Youth Social Action Fund
  • Journey Fund
  • Vulnerable Young People Fund

That’s an investment of £13.5 million we’ve made in youth social action since 2013. With another £10 million committed to uniformed youth groups carrying out social action over the next year.

I say ‘investment’. Because that’s exactly what it is. Investment means getting a return in the future. And, as we’ll hear in more detail shortly from the Behavioural Insights Team, youth social action certainly produces that.

The results of our 3 randomised control trials are hugely encouraging and provide a solid, quantitative evidence base for the sector to take heart from.

They show those taking part in our programmes score higher on a range of measures – the kind of characteristics employers look for. The 6 qualities – problem solving, grit and resilience, empathy, community, co-operation and educational attitude – were chosen because of their links to hard outcomes – employability being a key one.

Consistently, social action increased young people’s empathy and community involvement. And we also see significant increases for many participants in grit and resilience, co-operation and problem solving. In addition, the findings show participants were more willing to donate their time again in future than those who didn’t take part – imperative if we are to entrench social action as the norm.

I know many of you are still delivering. And that some of the evaluations are still to come. But you can feel fortified that the evidence is showing what we always believed it would. That social action makes a difference to those engaged in it.


And having been to see some of the projects represented in this room for myself, I’ve got to experience their value first-hand. Whether it’s Southern Brooks in Bristol, Citizenship Foundation in Birmingham or Voluntary Action Within Kent in…well…Kent, the story is the same. Enthusiastic young people getting involved and making a difference. Identifying the issues they want to address in their communities. And finding a way to do it.

From campaigning against domestic abuse to cultivating community gardens, and everything in between, these young people have covered a huge breadth of social action.

Before Christmas I went to the Cornwallis Academy in Kent and heard all about the tea-dance the students had organised for the residents of a local retirement home. It was a vivid illustration of the power of social action to bring together different generations of the community and I want to pay tribute to everyone involved.

I only wish I could have visited more of you in the few short months I’ve had. But my officials have kept me informed about the fantastic things taking place across the country.

Like the ‘Community Apprentice’ project in Birmingham, run by Envision. Before I entered Parliament I ran my own businesses, so I know what it’s like to take an idea and make it a reality. But pitching to the West Midlands’ equivalent of Lord Sugar? I’m not sure I could do it.

Or Media Trust’s ‘Youth Media’ programme, encouraging young people to be social action reporters and storytellers. I know a number of the participants went on to take part in Sky News’ #AskTheLeaders live TV event at the start of February.

Most politicians secretly dream of being Prime Minister. But after seeing the forensic interrogation David Cameron faced that afternoon, I’m sure many will be having second thoughts!

Yet it’s impossible not to be invigorated by witnessing the next generation leading the way on the issues of the day. In November, I had the great honour of speaking at the Youth Parliament. The Palace of Westminster opened up like at no other time in the year.

300 MYPs in the House of Commons chamber, debating serious issues facing our country – the kind of topics my colleagues and I wrestle with on a daily basis. The Living Wage. Mental health. Better access to work experience. None of these issues are simple. There are no easy answers. But the quality of debate left me with a lasting impression. Informed. Passionate. Articulate. And I believe youth social action can help build those qualities for all. Awareness for the world around us. The desire for to change things for the better. The confidence to make it happen.

In this year, more than any other, I want our young people to recognise the importance of taking part. For some, that means registering to vote. And exercising that right in May. But for everyone, it means stepping forward to take up the opportunities being created by every organisation in this room.

Vulnerable young people

And we shouldn’t forget those here today who’ve been involved with the most vulnerable and disadvantaged young people in society. Such as those in care, young offenders and refugees. It takes dedicated work from organisations like Groundwork who train up those not in education, employment or training.

I’m inspired by how much young people want to help others as peer mentors. It’s clear that mentoring from ‘Near Peers’ can provide a unique contribution and develop a special bond. Family Action, SOVA and Rise Up are just three of the examples that we’ve been able to work alongside.

The wider community has been crucial to this work’s success. 1,000 volunteers in the last twelve months is a testament to that fact. So thank you to everyone who’s had a role.

Step Up To Serve

As many of you know, this government has been proud to support Step Up To Serve’s #iwill campaign. Launched by the His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales in 2013, the campaign rightly has the backing of all the major parties to achieve its long-term aim: increasing by 50% the number of young people engaged in social action. That’s no small ambition. But, with hard work, I believe, a realistic one.

Last year we commissioned research from Ipsos MORI to map the current participation rates across the country. It showed 40% of young people are currently carrying out social action. That means we want to see over 60% playing their part by 2020. To get there we need more opportunities created, more adult volunteers to support them and more young people enthused about getting involved.

National Citizen Service (NCS)

That’s part of the reason I continue to champion National Citizen Service. Even before I took up this role, I was a regular at NCS events in my constituency. Meeting with graduates of the programme and finding out how much it had made an impact on their lives.

With social action at the core, NCS is a great example of how we can inspire the next generation to do their bit while building skills they’ll use for life. Over 130,000 people have been through NCS to date, who’ve collectively totalled over 3 million hours of volunteering. And there’s an exciting 2015 ahead as we make many more places available.

I know some of you in this room are involved in making NCS possible so I want to wish you the best for the forthcoming year – those Easter programmes aren’t far away!

Uniformed youth

Few things matter more in life than opportunities for young people. A few weeks ago, I visited the Bishop Thomas Grant School in Streatham to launch the final allocation of funding for Uniformed Youth groups.

The school plays host to a lively police cadet unit who meet regularly to carry out their drills and plan their social action. I’d never inspected cadets on parade before and it was certainly an experience for me, if not for them!

Aside from a stray dirty boot here and there, I have to say I was impressed. The energy of the cadets and the commitment of the volunteers gave me great confidence for the future.

The opportunities for social action are endless. And the ways in which we provide these chances to young people are growing. Whether it’s through the curriculum, after school clubs, holiday projects or empowering people to get involved in their spare time.

Centre for Youth Impact and Conclusion

We’ll hear more on the outcomes in a moment, but I want to finish by once again saying thank you for your hard work over the last 2 years. You’ve delivered against targets, reported on finances and evaluated the results of your programmes.

We’ve placed such an emphasis on the evaluations because we want to establish evidence-based programmes as the norm. The bigger the impact you make, the stronger the case for supporting you. That’s why we’ve invested in the Centre for Youth Impact, who you’ve heard from this morning.

You should rightly feel proud of the things you have achieved and I hope you have enjoyed working with the Cabinet Office. Together we’re showing what the benefits of youth social action are.

And the next step is shouting it from the rooftops. To attract investment, volunteers, and – most importantly – participants. In the words of Step Up To Serve – I know I WILL. Will you?

Thank you.

Published 2 March 2015