SCOTLAND’S national agency for youth work launched its Westminster manifesto in Edinburgh with a list of demands on the next UK government to secure a bright future for young people.

YouthLink Scotland is calling for a right of access for all young people to high-quality youth work and the protection of EU youth programme cash, age discrimination needs to be removed from the minimum wage, equal pay for equal work, votes at 16, tax breaks for businesses that encourage and facilitate their staff to volunteer, and free access to WiFi for all young people .

YouthLink Scotland’s chief executive Jim Sweeney sent out a stark message to Westminster candidates: “As politicians you seek a society where all young people have equality of opportunity. Youth work is very often the catalyst which gives young people the learning and skills which helps level the playing field between those who have and those who have not.

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“Since the last Westminster election in 2015, we would have expected to see at least some movement on some of our key asks. Instead money is being poured into ‘quick fix’ programmes at the expense of building a sustainable youth work sector across the UK.

“The digital offer must be improved for our young people, many of whom cannot access WiFi for free. We still have inequality within the National Minimum Wage and 16 and 17-year-olds continue to be denied the vote at UK level.”

Sweeney also issued a challenge to the next UK Prime Minister to protect current EU funding for youth programmes beyond 2018. A key strand of current EU funding for the youth work sector is Erasmus+ youth funding. Between 2009 and 2016 Scotland received €2,193,700 in funding for youth organisations.

“We would like to see the Prime Minister make a commitment to the continuation of Erasmus+, a programme that already involves non-EU members including Iceland and Norway. The youth work sector is already under intense pressure and any cutting of cash currently coming from the EU would hit those young people in disadvantaged communities the hardest, added Sweeney.

The manifesto was specially designed by the award-winning cartoonist Frank Boyle.

YouthLink Scotland is the voice of the youth work sector and has sought the views of its membership to inform the development of its manifestos from 2015-18, as its seeks to influence national and local policy on issues such as employment, equal pay, long-term and sustainable funding, poverty and volunteering.

More than 50 per cent of Scotland’s young people are involved in youth work and 70,000 of youth workers are volunteers. The youth work sector in Scotland is worth at least £656 million to the economy. YouthLink Scotland represents more than 100 organisations, including the 32 local authority youth work services and all major national voluntary youth work organisations.

Sweeney said: “We believe it is vital that politicians are aware of the critical work with young people that council-led and voluntary youth work makes to the personal and social development of our young people.

“Youth work really does change lives and we want to let politicians, at all levels, know that the ambition for a fair and equal society for our young people cannot be achieved without the significant input of the youth work sector, our army of volunteers and our expertise.”