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Defining a basic package of support for youth

Mandela Initiative newsletter (Issue 4, December 2017)

 

Building on the explorations of the possible components of a basic support package at the first Youth Conversation, the second event included young people from youth development organisations; leading academics in the fields of poverty and inequality, social assistance, health, and youth development; representatives from coalition partners, other government departments, and the National Planning Commission. They set out to design a possible support package for youth, framed around the key areas identified at the first conversation.

Contributing to an overview of the situation of the country’s youth, and focusing in particular on youth unemployment, the Youth Lab’s Pearl Pillay indicated that poverty and the lack of education, qualifications, work experience, facilities and support were among the main barriers to employment for South Africa’s young people. The Youth Lab, a youth-led think tank that aims to mainstream youth perspectives on policy, drew on workshops with young people in Bonnievale, Eastern Cape, and Eldorado Park, Gauteng. Youth in Bonnievale indicated that poverty, the lack of qualifications and jealousy in the broader community were the main barriers to employment for them. In Eldorado Park, the top three reasons for participating young people’s struggle to get employed were the lack of the necessary education and support, and substance abuse.

Poverty and the lack of education, qualifications, work experience, facilities and support were described as some of the main barriers to employment for South Africa’s young people

 

Other Youth Lab research found that the lack of work experience was a major barrier for young people in Cape Town and Johannesburg. Cape Town youth also indicated experiencing financial resources as a barrier – they were said to spend up to R2 000 annually in applying unsuccessfully for jobs, findings that are largely corroborated by research with youth in other parts of the country. Requirements that applicants provide a credit record was another example of unrealistic demands placed on first-time work-seekers. Some youth also told of cases where a “fee” was charged by a person who has information on work opportunities, with expectations that a share of the first month’s salary will be paid to that person if the applicant gets the job.

South Africa’s youth are struggling to progress to a quality of life better than their parents’ and grandparents’ under apartheid and colonial rule.

These snapshots of youth’s experiences as they leave education are not surprising: it is widely recognised that a multitude of deprivations hold young people back in their ability to progress. As part of a vicious cycle, unemployment also continues to drive income poverty and other forms of deprivation among youth. As a result, South Africa’s youth are struggling to progress to a quality of life that exceeds that of their parents and grandparents under apartheid and colonial rule. Almost 60% of youth aged 15 – 24 live in income poverty, and race remains an indicator of deprivation: 65% of African youth live in households with an income of less than R779 per person per month, compared to just over 4% of white young people. The third Quarterly Labour Market Survey of 2017 showed that 38,6% of youth 15 – 34 years were unemployed, while roughly one in three of those 15 – 24 years old were not in employment, education or training.

In the absence of higher levels of skills among young people, and with a sluggish economy that does not produce sufficient numbers of jobs for them, what can be done to begin to support young people in the country?

Where to begin?

The Youth Conversation discussions highlighted the importance of designing a package that serves youth’s needs across different ages (life-stage approach); that acknowledges the heterogenic nature of the country’s youth cohort; that strikes a balance by starting small and gradually scaling up interventions after initial evidence of their impact, and coming in at scale for issues that may be easier or more straightforward to begin to solve. Addressing youth deprivations in various key areas of wellness by focusing on cross-cutting issues that affect the majority was recommended.

In presenting on international examples of support for young people, Evelien Storme, from UCT’s Poverty and Inequality Initiative (PII) said there is no current example of a similar “basic package of support” elsewhere in the world. There are, however, interventions that are geared towards a comprehensive approach to assist youth to thrive and which come close to the intentions of a basic package of support. A few key insights from a review of such youth support interventions indicated that a comprehensive approach that combined cash and access to services worked best; that impact differed according to age and gender; that interventions needed to be anchored in a national consensus; and that a process of starting with the basics and gradually expanding has proved successful.

The importance of youth participation

As in the case of the first event, the participation of young people from youth-oriented interventions like Equal Education, Activate!, the Youth Lab, and Youth Cafes illustrated the coalition’s commitment to the mantra “nothing about us, without us”. It was important to hear from youth themselves about solutions to help them thrive, the Youth Lab’s Pearl Pillay confirmed, as “youth are currently rethinking the political environment and what needs to happen”, and it was important that they “own” processes that affect their lives.

“Nothing about us, without us …”

As in the case of the first event, the participation of young people from youth-oriented interventions like Equal Education, Activate!, the Youth Lab, and Youth Cafés illustrated the coalition’s commitment to the mantra “nothing about us, without us”. It was important to hear from youth themselves about solutions to help them thrive, the Youth Lab’s Pearl Pillay confirmed, as “youth are currently rethinking the political environment and what needs to happen”, and it was important that they “own” processes that affect their lives.

The need for healing

South Africa’s youth are “retraumatised” by a society that is still dysfunctional from centuries of oppression, Dr Ramphele pointed out: “They are not angry, destructive youth, but are wounded people that need to be assisted.” Hence, in a conversation about a youth support package, it was important not to focus just on solutions and government’s capacity to provide good systems, but also to acknowledge the need for healing, she said. For this reason, dynamics of trust, common purpose, and constructivism, especially among population groups of different race, age, and socio-economic backgrounds, needed to be addressed.

In thinking about the elements of a package of support, Dr Ramphele urged participants that “a new system of social justice requires us to rethink many of our current systems”.

Monitoring and evaluation are essential

Qualitative data were needed in particular as these could delve into the people’s realities in their neighbourhoods and communities

The review of support interventions used in other countries highlighted the importance of rigorous data collection and analysis for the purposes of monitoring and evaluation, followed by adjustment of programmes where outcomes are not met. This need was also stressed by John Kruger, from the Department of Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation, who foregrounded access, adequacy and quality of data as the three central elements in the M&E process. He said qualitative data, in particular, were needed because these could delve into the realities people face in their neighbourhoods and communities.

In presenting on lessons from the successful process to define a support package for early childhood development, Solange Rosa from UCT’s Bertha Centre for Social Innovation said the ECD coalition’s strategy of using data to show where the biggest needs were has played an important role. Similarly, the interactive, online Youth Explorer, which provides youth-centered data in one easily accessible place, can be important in defining a package of support for youth. The portal was launched earlier this year by UCT’s PII in partnership with OpenUp (formerly Code for South Africa), Statistics South Africa and the Economies of Regions Learning Network. The portal is continuously updated with data as they become available and accessible.

Possible components of a youth support package

The Youth Conversation culminated in an afternoon of small group work to detail the various building blocks for a basic package of support. The session focused on defining the youth who need support, exploring sector-specific options of support, defining roles for various stakeholders and prioritising options for an initial drafting of a package. The respective groups focused on health; basic education; post-school education and training; employment; income/social security; living conditions; and connectedness (which included transport and information communication technology).

Facilitated by National Planning Commissioner, Tessa Dooms, an exercise to define the target audience for a support package showed that there were wide-ranging views on this aspect.

There was some agreement about the socio-economic status, personal characteristics and geography of the target audience, but it was noted that age was a limiting factor for determining need. Instead, targeting critical life phases, such as the transition to high school, writing matric or dropping out, and becoming a young parent or caregiver was considered more useful. Providing preventative and supportive interventions at such crucial moments in young people’s lives as part of the package emerged as recommended approaches.

The groups each identified three options for addressing their theme’s overall problem, the type of youth to target the solutions at, and the role players to involve. The proposed building blocks of the package, as put forward by the groups, aimed to address:

Targeting critical life phases was considered more useful than targeting a specific age group

  • Health and wellbeing: Improved access to quality preventative, promotive, curative and rehabilitative services.
  • Employment and economic empowerment: Creation of decent jobs and social protection in an environment of general job scarcity. (The group recognised the limits to the economy’s job creation capacities. For this reason, some members recommended substantial expansion of social protection, e.g. a Basic Income Grant.)
  • School and education: Creation of environments conducive to teaching and learning so that young people can leave school with empowering qualifications.
  • Tertiary education: Support to young people to realise their potential once they leave school.
  • Economic opportunities: Access to financial resources for poor young people over 18 years old.

None of those components and aims are final yet, and require research to understand whether they would even be viable, affordable, and so on. Further, it was proposed that a dual strategy be developed: while there was a need for structural changes in the long term, interventions can already be developed and tested to support young people in the interim.

The way forward

John Kruger indicated that the theory of change of the basic package of support would fit the objectives of the National Development Plan as its top priority – like the package’s – is to eradicate poverty and reduce inequality. Next year, the coalition hopes to commission research along key areas of identified interventions.

Dr Ariane De Lannoy, who leads the youth component of the PII’s work, said the research will culminate in a recommendation and, where possible, costing of a package of youth support, followed by advocacy to see the package written into policy.

Full report on the second Youth Conversation

Read about the first Youth Conversation

 

This article was written by Charmaine Smith, communication manager of the Mandela Initiative, with input from Ariane De Lannoy.