by Derek Mitchell, CAS Chief Executive.
This article first appeared in the Herald on 14 April 2021.
We’ve gone through a year like no other because of the pandemic, and now begin to face the challenges of what comes next.
One group of people who have been seriously affected by the pandemic are our young people. National lockdowns, so vital to stop the spread of the virus, have meant lost opportunities in education, employment and social lives.
We also live in the social media era of fake news, where people cannot be entirely sure if the information they are getting is accurate.
Now more than ever our young people need information they can trust, that helps them get on in life, take advantage of the opportunities open to them and get the rewards they are entitled to and deserve.
That’s why this week, Citizens Advice Scotland was delighted to agree a strategic partnership with Young Scot, the national youth information and citizenship charity for 11-26 year olds in Scotland.
The Citizens Advice network and Young Scot share similar goals – a Scotland where everyone has access to the advice and information they need and are empowered to exercise their rights.
Our partnership will focus initially on two key areas. First of all on ensuring young people get the advice and information they need to empower them with knowledge of their rights and to take advantage of the opportunities they have.
Young Scot has done outstanding work in Scotland reaching out to young people in communities across the country on so many issues during the pandemic, from money issues to health advice and online abuse.
So we will work together to ensure our advice content can reach more young people, and partner on campaigns of particular relevance to younger people.
This builds on work we have done previously. In 2019 CAS’ ‘Do the Rights Thing’ campaign was supported by Young Scot, which looked to raise awareness around young people’s rights at work on issues like the minimum wage and proper holiday pay and breaks.
Last year, CAS policy staff worked with Young Scot on a ‘CashChats’ series on Instagram, giving young people top tips around money, and we’ve worked together to help young people recognise and report scams online.
So on issues like employment, housing, financial health and social security, CAS and Young Scot can work together to get the right advice to people who need it, in a way that suits their needs.
Scotland’s young people have also been the driving force behind the need to confront the climate emergency, and our work on energy issues is around ensuring people do not pay too much for their energy bills as we transition to net zero.
The second area where we will work together is around ensuring more young people have the opportunity to volunteer with the Citizens Advice Bureau network in Scotland.
Our network is powered by volunteers. Over 2,300 volunteers contributed more than 750,000 hours of their time in 2019-20, the monetary value of this contribution amounts to over £11 million, but for thousands of people helped, their contribution was simply priceless.
So volunteering is a great way to help your local community, but it’s also a terrific way to improve skills and experience. In the Citizens Advice Bureau network in Scotland around 49% of volunteers leaving the service go on to paid employment or further education.
At a time when it is so vital that we ensure opportunities for young people, volunteering in a CAB could be a huge help for young people seeking to build their confidence and skills.
Our partnership with Young Scot is also part of a wider point – we can all achieve more when we work together.
It’s easy for any organisation to get stuck in institutional silos and lose sight of the bigger picture and forget that we are surrounded by other organisations with similar objectives, who could easily be our partners in achieving them.
We saw this over the course of the pandemic as charities across the country stepped up during extraordinary circumstances to help others, and working together allows us to help and reach more people.
The Citizens Advice network exists to offer free advice to everyone in Scotland, including young people. We’ve done that for more than 80 years, but it’s is important to recognise where working with others helps us achieve more, and it is perhaps fair to say that the CABs are not always seen as a natural place that a young person would turn to when they need support. We know that some young people have heard of us, but don’t always understand what we do and how we can help them.
This is unfortunate, because the CAB network does in fact have staff, volunteers and clients of all ages, and many of our CABs do fantastic work engaging young people in their local communities.
We are also offering more diverse platforms through which people can access our services, but working with an organisation like Young Scot will mean more advice getting to young people in the first place.
Finally I’d also like to highlight the contribution and work of outgoing Young Scot Chief Executive Louise Macdonald, herself a former long-time volunteer in a CAB. At CAS we all wish Louise well in her next post and thank her for the work she has done both with the Citizens Advice network and with Young Scot she will be sorely missed.
It’s been a while since I could call myself a ‘Young Scot’ but I’m really excited about the partnership between our organisations. Working together we can unlock more opportunities for young people and empower them with the advice they need to exercise their rights.