For me, the best part of being an MP is the opportunity to meet with young people and talk to them about their aspirations for the future.
We have some outstanding young talent in the region and in my constituency of Barnsley Central, but too often we hear the aspiration and ambition of these people being talked down.
There is no doubt that this is a tough time to be growing up; in Barnsley the increase in the level of youth unemployment is one of the highest in the country, and there is real concern about making sure that the right education, training, apprenticeship and academic opportunities are available. The government’s decision to abandon EMA, triple tuition-fees and scrap the Barnsley-inspired Future Jobs Fund have further exacerbated this problem, delivering a triple blow for young people. This also comes at a time when significant reductions in youth services are being implemented across the region by local councils.
All this means that, inevitably, there will be some young people who take the wrong turn and fall short; it has always been that way. The view, however, that this generation is not as good as the one that preceded it is an opinion that I disagree with. Even in this rapidly changing, complex world, young people today are everything and more than their parents and grandparents were.
I have seen firsthand the courage and professionalism that young people can display from my time in the Army; the dedication and courage of these individuals is beyond reproach. Many of our young people are capable of displaying these qualities, and we should not doubt their ability to do so.
Now, when I visit schools and colleges, I am always inspired by the enthusiasm and zest for life that the students display; the ambition to make the most of any opportunities that come their way. They understand that success will not be easy but that does not stop their desire to achieve it.
We sometimes forget that in Yorkshire we have some fantastic examples; people who were born here and have gone on to achieve greatness. We are not short of role models, and we should make the most of them as part of the way in which we encourage the next generation to succeed.
Ultimately though, it’s for politicians to ensure that our young people are able to make the most of the opportunities available. Achieving this will require work to create the best education system possible that encourages students regardless of whether they choose to pursue the academic path or a vocational one. To do this, we must ensure that we support teachers, whose dedication to the development of young people is invaluable and must always be recognised.
Crucially, politicians must create the right economic framework for our young people to thrive, ensuring that there are the best employment opportunities, so that the prospect of a decent job is a reality for everyone. This will also require a welfare system that encourages and incentivises work, but also makes sure that every opportunity to ‘get on’ is given, and those that genuinely need help are given it.
I understand why many will be cynical about the ability of politicians to achieve these goals. But there is one very important thing that we can all do and it costs us nothing. Literally nothing. We can make sure that we never, ever, talk down the life opportunities and ambitions of the next generation. We can make sure that we take every opportunity to encourage, inspire, persuade, and sometimes cajole the young people in our region to realise their ambitions – to fulfil the potential that we, and they, know they are capable of. The hopes and dreams of the next generation are incredibly precious, and if we are to succeed, we should never take them for granted.
These small things would cost us nothing but would be invaluable. Most of all, we should make sure that young people are proud of who they are. Coming from Barnsley, from South Yorkshire, from Yorkshire should never be badges of shame; they are badges of honour. It is up to us to ensure that our young people – the next generation of talent – wear these badges with pride – and strive for the very top.
The full text of an article printed in The Sheffield Star on 31 May 2013.