Prescription Charges Project: Oldham Metropolitan Borough Council

Oldham Youth Council (OYC) prepared and presented a motion to full council for the council to pay the prescription charges for care leavers for whom they are corporate parents.


Background

The Prescription Charges project took place in Oldham in the North West of England. Oldham Youth Council (OYC) prepared and presented a motion to full council for the council to pay the prescription charges for care leavers for whom they are corporate parents.

The project was initiated by young care leavers who were part of the OYC, and also members of the Children in Care Council (CICC) which is directly linked to OYC. The project aimed to persuade the council to extend its support to care leavers by paying for their prescription charges until the age of 25. OYC is supported and facilitated by youth workers from Oldham Youth Service, which is part of the council’s Young People’s Services. 

The policy makers involved were the councillors of Oldham Council, who have a legal responsibility to act as corporate parents to children in the council’s care, and care leavers. The engagement was though full council meetings.

Engagement of young people

Young people are recruited to OYC by standing for election from the six districts of the town. They can stand if they live, are educated, or work in Oldham and the opportunity is advertised through schools, colleges, youth organisations and via social media. Seven Youth Councillors are elected from each district, 42 new Youth Councillors in total. 

OYC has 60-70 members, 42 who are elected representatives and approximately 10 from Barrier Breakers, the Send Forum and the CiCC. All members of these forums have a seat on the wider youth council but between three and five young people who attend act as a link to these forums. The CiCC is open to all care experienced young people up to the age of 25. Within the CiCC are Young Voices, for children up to 11 years, the Children in Care Council, for children up to 18 years-old, and a Care Leavers Forum, which is a mainly digital forum for young care leavers aged 16-25 years-old.

The youth workers report young people have different motivations for getting and staying involved in the OYC. Roughly one third of the members come for two or three months and then do not come back. For another third the value is the opportunities being involved in OYC can offer them. They serve their full two-year term and learn new skills, develop networks, and take part in activities that enrich their CV. The final third is motivated by the chance to make a difference in their own lives and those of their peers. It is this group that tends to stay engaged for the longest period of time. Looked after children and care leavers who are members of OYC are more likely to attend when they have an issue they want to address. They can come for a few meetings and then step back before returning a few weeks later. It is a challenge as their lives can be less stable than those of their peers, however, there are long term members who attend for five or six years. One of the things that motivates young people to stay involved is that they value long term relationships with youth workers. This is particularly valuable to children and young people from the CiCC as they often experience a high frequency of changes in relationships in other areas of their lives.

Activities 

OYC meet weekly to plan campaigns and carry out regular ad-hoc duties, they have a standing agenda item at full council meetings so they can take motions to full council to be debated and voted on. This is written into the council constitution. Young people bring issues of concern to OYC who then agree to undertake research and prepare the motion. Motions are presented by members of OYC, councillors cannot ask young people questions as it is a public meeting but have a right of reply. 

The Prescription Charges project came from a care leaver who expressed concern to the youth workers from the Oldham Youth Service that they could not afford to pay for their prescriptions and were having to choose which drugs to get. They felt if it were an issue for them, it would be an issue for other care leavers. The youth workers asked the young person to take the general issue to the CiCC to discuss. The CiCC undertook research on how many prescriptions members get every year, how much average prescription costs were for them and on health inequalities. The research found how, among their group, care leavers were more likely to be ill than non-care experienced people and had less money to pay for prescriptions. They realised an annual prescription charge would be cheaper than paying for individual prescriptions over a year. Their concern was the cost, as it would be difficult for a care leaver to find over £100 to pay upfront for an annual prescription certificate. 

Using this research, the young person who initially raised the issue worked with OYC to prepare papers, the motion, and their speech to take the issue to a full council meeting. The motion was presented by two care leavers and was carried unanimously. The council moved to ask the chief executive to write to the secretary of state for health asking that care leavers up to the age of 25 become a national exemption criterion on prescription charges. The right of care leavers to apply for a prescription charge certificate became part of the offer to young care leavers in Oldham.

Support for young people to undertake these activities was provided by youth workers from Oldham Youth Service, Young People’s Services. Youth workers work with OYC to enable the young people to plan their research, and help the young people prepare the motion in accordance with council expectations ensuring timescales were met. The youth workers work with OYC in setting up the recruitment and election processes, inducting young people and enabling their campaigns and regular activities. They support OYC involvement in external meetings locally, regionally, and nationally.

Key messages

One of the strengths of this work is the clear structural link between OYC and the full council. This allows them to present issues from their direct lived experience to councillors unfiltered by professional concerns and priorities. Young people have a clear process, well supported by youth workers, which allows them to research their topic and draft a motion. One of the challenges of this approach is that processes and procedures that are time consuming and complex and often necessarily slow down decision making can be in opposition to young people’s desire to see change quickly. 

Young people can speak directly to politicians and see the impact of their interventions. The fact that this is built into the council constitution gives young people confidence that they will be heard. It is valued by councillors and senior officers who recognise how young people’s involvement can improve policy and services. In this case they were able to direct resources quickly and efficiently to increase their offer to care leavers in a way that has an immediate and positive impact on young people in their care.

The role of the youth workers who support young people to research and frame the ideas to present to full council is key. The long-term relationship that builds up trust is able to focus on the concerns of the young person and support them to find solutions to challenges and to develop their ideas.

Councils could consider amending their constitutions to give youth voice bodies similar powers and have a standing agenda item for young people, thereby creating a process that ensures young people have a clear route to getting decision makers to respond to their concerns, especially those from their lived experience. 

Further information

  • Local council: Oldham Metropolitan Borough Council

Contact: Chris Lewis, Lead Youth Worker, Oldham Youth Service chris.lewis@oldham.gov.uk.