The loss of youth work in our communities has had a devastating impact on young lives across the country. Young people have lost role models and spaces in which to be creative and develop social groups and friendships. They have lost opportunities to learn new skills, take part in social action projects and re-engage in education. Many young people are growing up today with nowhere to go, nothing to do, and nobody to speak to outside of school and their home environment.
Within this context, it is not surprising that we are seeing such high levels of loneliness, mental health problems and knife crime. The stark reality of a decade of cuts has been laid out in the latest Labour Communities Team health check report published today. Our analysis shows that local authorities have faced cuts of 70% to youth services budgets, with some of the poorest areas bracing the toughest cuts. Some regions have also been hit particularly hard – with London and the North West forced to burden the largest reductions in their budgets.
Recent work from the Local Government Association has also shown that there are now 14,500 less youth and community workers since 2008, a reduction of 58%. This includes 5,500 full-time equivalent qualified youth workers.
Despite these pressures, Labour councils have sought to protect youth services in their local areas, and have innovated where funds have been cut to still deliver a youth provision. Barking and Dagenham is soon opening London’s first “youth zone” to offer first class facilities to thousands of young people and in Bristol. Despite a 25% cut in their budgets, they are innovating to ensure that all young people are still able to access youth services. There are many more examples that I could draw on.
But the uncertainty over local government funding – made worse by the government’s deadlock over Brexit and the promotion of Boris Johnson to Prime Minister – creates a growing challenge for local authorities to innovate to provide these services. A decade of austerity has left young people in many parts of our country without access to youth services, as the government continues to spend billions on funding the consequences of their cuts whilst doing little to tackle the root causes.
Instead of sticking plaster solutions, Labour has a strategy to rebuild our communities and guarantee high-quality youth services in every local authority. We want every young person to have access to services such as youth clubs, youth centres and counselling, so they have somewhere to go and someone to talk to. And importantly, under a Labour government, young people will be supported and encouraged to have an equal say in the design and management of youth services in their area. Our responsibility to young people does not end at the school gates.
The decimation of youth services has not happened in isolation but in the context of huge cuts to local authorities. We must remember that austerity is a political choice, not an economic necessity. Our nation is the fifth richest in the world, and while axing millions from services for young people the Tories have handed out billions of pounds in corporation tax giveaways. We can no longer sit back and allow the Tories to fail our young people.