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Cuts have left young people feeling abandoned

JANUARY 29, 2020

There is no argument that can deny that the consequence of Tory austerity on young people has been devastating.

As the Labour Party’s consultation into what a statutory youth service might look like ends, Cat Smith MP tells us how Labour would rebuild Britain’s devastated youth services and highlights how cuts to youth services have impacted on the lives of young people and the workers supporting them.

In many parts of the UK, and because of cuts to local government, young people no longer have access to a youth worker or to a space where they feel safe and where they have some ownership and control. Youth workers can be many things but on a basic level, they are someone young people can talk to outside school and home environments to get the support they need. Given that around 85% of a young person’s waking hours are spent outside formal education, the gravity of cuts to youth services becomes more real.

"Youth workers aren’t just someone to talk to", they are trained professionals "who can spot the emergence of antisocial behaviour, potential harm and divisive ideologies, and work with young people to address such issues before they became social problems.”

The landscape for delivering youth services has changed significantly over the past decade under a government who has appeared set on destroying public services. The Tories came to power in 2010 and immediately began slashing local authority budgets. Funding disappeared, youth workers lost their jobs and youth centres everywhere started closing. Many argue that it is the first public service to have been dismantled. In some parts of the UK, youth services have been destroyed.

Monday’s report by Unison also highlighted the cuts to public services and in particular to youth services and the consequential effects on young people. Data obtained under the Freedom of Information Act shows that between 2016 and 2019, nearly 900 youth-worker jobs will have been cut and at least 160 youth centres will have closed their doors. This means a total loss of more than 4,500 youth-work jobs and 760 youth centres since 2012. Unite believes these figures are far higher.

new report by the Health Foundation published this week concludes that in many cases, the long term health of 16- to 24-year-olds is being jeopardised by socioeconomic factors and a lack of public services. “To be healthy, everyone needs a job, a friend, somewhere to live and education or job opportunities,” says Jo Bibby, director of health at the Health Foundation. “Conversely, not having those things increases the chances of illness later in life.”

It’s not just young people’s physical health that is being put at risk, according to the latest figures, almost 390,000 under-18s in England a year are being treated for mental health conditions, while GPs are referring around 50,000 a month to mental health services but government cuts means young people are having to wait a long time for help as services are inadequate and unable to intervene early and meet current demand.

The report also found that cuts to public services are a particular worry for 16- to 24-year-olds across all five areas, but especially youth services. “There was one youth club in my area and I loved going when I was younger – but it has closed down now and there is nothing else in the area,” a young person from Bradford told researchers.

Youth services are a vital component in the support network for young people that can respond to the unique challenges that young people today face. Chronic levels of loneliness, rising mental health problems, increased national violent crime are all issues this government has failed to address.

Unite is the leading trade union for community, youth and playworkers, with thousands of members across the United Kingdom. The union has a specific section for Community, Youth and Playworkers (CYPW) and we work tirelessly to campaign for an end to the destruction of community, youth and play services, for a high-quality universal youth and play service for all and a statutory supported youth service. Unite campaigns for JNC Pink book pay and terms and condition for all our members underpinned by continuous professional development and training.

Unite firmly believes that the government needs to put investment in young people’s futures at the heart of policy. We cannot sit back and allow them to fail our young people any longer.  If we continue to ignore this generation’s needs, our society will pay a high price.

You can read Unite’s response to the Labour Party Consultation ‘Rebuilding Youth Services’ here.

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