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Jessica Southgate, Policy Manager at Agenda for Women and Girls at Risk, blogs about its new campaign.  This blog was originally posted on the Agenda website

“They should have dealt with things properly. They should have listened to what I had said…I wouldn’t have gone through the things that I went through.” – Sheena

Girls and young women facing the greatest forms of inequality and disadvantage are frequently marginalised, ignored and misunderstood. Girls facing a combination of problems – like abuse and violence, mental health problems, conflict with the law, addiction or having no safe place to call home – are often overlooked in policy and services designed to meet young people’s needs, and we hear little about the reality of their experiences.

Time and again, youth policies, reviews and strategies fail to recognise the different and gendered experiences and needs of girls and boys. The Government’s Transforming Children and Young People’s Mental Health Provision Green Paper, for example, makes no mention of girls – despite the NHS’s own research showing that young women (aged 17-19) are a high-risk group for mental health problems.

Even where it is recognised that girls face poorer outcomes or face additional vulnerabilities that might mean they face further risk, their needs are rarely given the attention they deserve. The Timpson Review of School Exclusion found girls in care were much more likely to be excluded than those not in care – a much clearer trend than in boys. And despite the Charlie Taylor Youth Justice System noting the extreme vulnerability of girls in custody, the Government has no clear plan to address girls needs in the criminal justice system.

Government and the media tend to report on issues affecting disadvantaged young people as though these primarily affect boys, and in many cases the way girls are affected is overlooked. We regularly see models of provision, support and sanctions built around young men’s lives. This is particularly true where girls are in the minority, such as the criminal justice system and pupil referrals units, or where their experiences might be more hidden, such as with intimate partner violence. Overall this means girls are easier to overlook, which translates directly into what gets measured, how policy is designed, who gets heard and what gets funded on the ground.

We need to shift to a more gendered understanding of ‘risk’ and ‘harm’ as it affects young people and wider society. As girls are more likely to be a risk to themselves than to others, for example by self-harming of developing eating disorders, we often don’t see their pain and struggles. If we continue to only think about externalised behaviours such as getting in fights or acting out in school (in themselves also often expressions of trauma), we fail to see the true extent of problems affecting girls.

Unseen and left without help, girls may go on face other problems, coming to the attention of other services such as children’s social care around concerns about their own children, or as adult survivors of childhood exploitation facing the legacy of trauma. The fact that many services working with adult women say the needs of their beneficiaries are increasing, becoming more entrenched and more complex, suggests we aren’t getting things right at an earlier enough stage for girls and young women.

Sadly, we hear similar experiences to the words of Sheena all too often. Girls telling us that they haven’t been seen, understood or helped to fulfill their potential. Which is why Agenda is launching a new programme of work to uncover girl’s lived realities, and generate solutions for change. By growing the evidence base on girls needs and experiences, working with girls to identify what works and what’s needed, and engaging with those in positions of power and influence to put this into practice, we aim to bring about the change girls tell us they want.

If you work with girls and young women facing disadvantage, we would love to hear from you. Please get in touch with [email protected] to find out more and be part of this work.


Miss Macaroon Community Interest Company (CIC) was started by Rosie Ginday, combining her passion for beautiful hand-crafted food, baking, and her desire to help disadvantaged young adults in her local area Birmingham.  Having trained to become a pastry chef at one of Birmingham’s four Michelin starred establishments, Rosie wanted to make the highly competitive Birmingham catering industry more accessible to marginalised young people from deprived areas of the city. Here the founder, a trustee, and a member of the team blog about the success of the Miss Macaroon model.

The Founder

“I set up Miss Macaroon in 2011 to bring together my passion for making the handed crafted delights that are French macaroons and providing supportive work placements for marginalised young people. Through a family member’s experience in the care system and chance encounters with a young homeless man in my home town I have always felt that I was extremely fortunate not to have been in a precarious situation myself. I dreamt of a business that combined my love of food, its power to create strong connections, a sense of community and nourish supportive relationships, throughout my time at school, university and abroad while setting up my first restaurant.

With help from amazing mentors, board members and University College Birmingham, where I did my catering training, I started producing our delicious French macaroons and ran a pilot training programme in 2011, out of which the Macaroons that Make A Difference programme emerged. To date we have worked with 17 of the most difficult to engage young people. I love making our beautiful product, quality control (taste) testing, and creating new flavours, but the thing that keeps me engaged after baking the 5000th macaroon of the day is seeing our newest member of staff practicing all of the skills he learnt on the first day he started the MacsMAD course. Initiative, time management, communication and team work are all improved by working in our kitchen. I’m really proud of the huge amount of hard work and commitment to learning and growing he has shown in working to get his apprenticeship and succeed in the Miss Macaroon kitchen, so much so that he is now called ‘Flash’!   With the support from Barrow Cadbury we can now increase the number of training placements, work experiences, mentor support sessions, and paid employment opportunities we can provide for young people who have been involved with the criminal justice system, who have been in care or found themselves homeless.

The new board member

Rosie Ginday’s Miss Macaroon has it all; exquisite hand-made French macaroons and a great cause. So when I was invited to join the board of this CIC I jumped at the chance. I’m very happy to help a project which supports young adults by providing work experience and practical help to guide them into work or education. It’s an exciting company and the energy and enthusiasm oozing from Rosie is highly infectious. She is a fantastic role model, not only for the young adults the organisation helps, but all SME business leaders, including me. Each time I attend a board meeting or catch up with Rosie in between time, I inevitably reflect back on how I can improve my own business. The Board consists of a group of experienced SME leaders with a wealth of experience across all aspects of business and it’s always interesting to get their perspective. However the most rewarding aspect is knowing (hoping!) I can play a small part in improving the work and educational opportunities for some young people. This was brought home to the board recently when one young man who had been given a short term contract at Miss Macaroon came to speak to us about his experience. He was confident, happy and had certainly soaked up some of Rosie’s enthusiasm. It was a pleasure to meet him and confirmed for me the real value of this worthwhile organisation.   I also get to eat some of the product; a perfect indulgence!

The newest full-time member of the team and beneficiary

My name is Zee and I’m 25 years old. I’m a trainee pastry chef doing an apprenticeship at Miss Macaroon. I work in the kitchen and prepare macaroons. I do a lot of the filling, packaging and baking.   When I was in a hostel last January I came across a flyer advertising the MacsMAD course as an opportunity to learn new skills. I had been unemployed for four years so the course was a good opportunity to readjust to a working environment and meet new people. I saw the flyer and thought it was something worth engaging with so I applied to get involved in the MacsMAD course. I met Rosie who helped me as mentor and gave me an introduction in to the catering industry. I also gained my food hygiene qualification. My confidence grew throughout the process. I stayed in touch with Rosie who encouraged me to get some work experience.

I was offered the opportunity to get some experience one day a week and grow in the industry. After that I got offered a position. I then went on to do three days a week. It’s been a good transition I guess to start off on one day then three days, and finally on full time hours. There hasn’t been pressure – I’ve gradually been allowed to fit in. It’s been easier than just going straight in to full time work which would have been a bit more pressure if I hadn’t had the chance to develop the way I have.   I was asked to speak at a board meeting in July and I didn’t know what to expect. I was a bit nervous but excited too. I definitely learned a different side of business and how this is a crucial part, how different minds and skills come together to improve the company. I felt privileged to be involved and it will be great to put on my CV. The opportunity was good for me to express myself about my experience at Miss Macaroon. It reassured me that I wasn’t judged. It was a good experience – definitely something positive to take forward in life. I learnt more about everyone’s roles and more about management.

Miss Macaroon has helped me to get a job in catering. It’s helped with skills, confidence, direction, focus and determination. It’s given me the opportunity to be part of something positive and constructive and to appreciate what skills are required in the work place. Rosie is a good motivator so my confidence has grown. Setting goals is now part of the way I work which I didn’t do before and that’s because of the five year plan we have put in place.

Find out more about Miss Macaroon on their website.   Twitter: @IamMissMacaroon Facebook: MissMacaroonCIC

Joy Warmington, CEO of brap, writes about 30 years of equalities practice in Birmingham and the need for clarity, a shared vision and getting on the front foot.

Here’s a quick question for you. For every £100 that a man working in Birmingham earns, how much do you think a woman earns? Ninety five pounds? Ninety pounds? Maybe as low as £85?


We’ll reveal the answer at the end, so while you’re mulling over that here’s another one. The unemployment rate for white people in Birmingham is about 9%. What’s the rate for black people? If you doubled 9%, try again. The answer is actually three times higher – 26%. The unemployment rate for Pakistani and Bangladeshi residents is similarly out of kilter, currently standing at 18%. But here’s the really interesting thing. Back in 2004 the white unemployment rate was 6% while the black rate was 18% – again three times higher. Over the course of a decade, despite all its strategies and plans, the city was unable to reduce this stark inequality.


Why is this? Well, it’s not just Birmingham that’s been asking these questions. A number of cities – from Plymouth to Sheffield to York – have held fairness commissions in recent years to understand why entrenched inequalities persist. As useful and, in some cases, penetrating as these commissions have been they have tended to ignore the nuts and bolts of how public agencies ‘do’ equality – how they go about tackling discrimination, eradicating social patterns of disadvantage, and fulfilling their legislative equalities duties. This is a serious gap. Understanding why these approaches have failed may go some way to explain why serious inequalities continue.


New research From Benign Neglect to Citizen Khan, providing a bird’s eye view of equalities practice down the decades shows that many ideas have been resistant to change. Whereas society has changed greatly over the last 30 years, our equalities tools have remained remarkably similar. For example, in 1984 Birmingham City Council set up a Race Equality Unit with the aim of addressing institutional racism and improving access to council services. By 1989 the Unit had 31 staff, including race relations advisers in housing, education, and social services. The Unit’s annual report for that year shows its activities included training, monitoring uptake of services, helping different departments devise race equality schemes, improving access to services (mainly by translating information), and organising outreach events. If you were to include something about community development (helping local community groups to support disadvantaged people) these activities would all be part of the Standard Six – the half a dozen key actions that have dominated equality strategies and policies over the decades. They’re the things that crop up time and time again, regardless of the organisation’s sector or the demographics of its service users. Ideally, equality approaches would be dynamic – constantly evolving as we better understand what works. Unfortunately, this generally hasn’t been the case.


We don’t want to suggest that no progress at all has been made, of course. For one thing, the number of excluded groups considered by equalities practice has increased. For example, public authorities in Birmingham didn’t fund any lesbian or gay groups during the 1970s or 80s – a situation which would be subject to serious scrutiny today. In addition, equalities practice is beginning to explore the impact of leadership and organisational vision when it comes to embedding best practice, and organisations are beginning to focus more on partnership working. However, there are still some things we need to get better at.


Firstly, as agencies work together more closely we need to be crystal clear about what ‘equality’ means. This may sound simple, but if you speak to people in different organisations you’d be surprised at how many answers you get. This is no longer an option. Different agencies have to be on the same page when it comes to delivering fairer outcomes for the most vulnerable. Secondly, and connected with this, we need a shared vision of what good quality of life looks like for Birmingham’s residents. This needs to be informed by what people think is important and by the common needs of people from different communities in the city. In other words, it will involve much more clarity about the ‘domains’ of equality that are important to a wide range of people in the city. Thirdly, we need to devise a series of entitlements necessary to guarantee these needs and measure the provision of these through a multi-agency, multi-sector programme of activities.


Finally – and perhaps most importantly – we need to take equality, cohesion, and integration seriously. In addition to the Standard Six, the clearest feature arising from a historical survey of equalities practice is that we’re constantly reacting to things. Whether it’s an influx of new migrants, riots, or legislative changes, equalities practice has always been devised in response to a particular crisis or problem. We have never stood back, thought about the type of society we want to create and then pursued this vision with vigour. It’s clear that equalities practice has usually been seen as a side show to the main business of delivering services. This can’t continue. We need to get on the front foot. Rather than react to problems we need to proactively shape the future.


Which brings us back to where we started: how much does a Birmingham woman earn compared to a man? The answer is £81 for every £100 he earns – a gender pay gap of 19%. This is bad enough itself, but it’s also worth noting that at our current rate of progress it’ll be 2038 before pay equality is achieved (and this is assuming there will always be progress: between 2012 and 2013 the gender pay gap actually increased). It’s becoming increasingly obvious that our traditional approaches to equality are delivering progress at too slow a rate. If we do what we’ve always done we’ll get what we’ve always got. And what we’ve always got has let down too many people.


It’s time for a change.