Guest blog by Sue Shanks, co-Chair of the Green Party
The cuts to youth services in Brighton and Hove just announced will mean the end of the local authority youth service and a loss of financial support for several voluntary youth projects. As lead member for children’s services in the last administration I was proud that, under the Greens, we had protected this important service.
I have worked as a youth worker, youth work manager and latterly a tutor on university qualifying courses for youth and community workers. I have published articles and a book on youth work (as Sue Robertson) and I am still involved in the field as a trustee of youth organisations and an external examiner.
All around the country, local authorities are cutting youth services as they are ‘non statutory.’ Although the local authority is supposed to provide some services, there is nothing laid down as to ‘how much.’
Youth work is a vital service to young people. It provides space for young people, somewhere to go, a friendly adult to build a relationship with, someone to talk to. Plus, it provides activities – something to do. Most of this will be accessible precisely to those who can’t take ‘something to do’ for granted; they may not have the family income to access it.
In the 1960s the Albemarle report led to the building of local authority run youth centres across the country. These were built on the council estates; Hangleton, Moulsecombe, Whitehawk . I have recently been interviewing past users of the 67 Centre in Moulsecombe for a celebration of its 50 years, and men in their 50s look back on the times they spent at the centre and the trips they went on with real joy.
In the 1980s I ran a youth centre and took young people to the mountains and on trips abroad – these are things their families could not do. Their eyes were opened to ideas and activities they had never experienced. Surely this should not be confined to those young people with parents who can afford it? Parents who can afford it spend large amounts on ferrying young people to clubs, is there to be nothing for our more deprived young people?
The council spends a huge amount on targeted social work services but intervention often comes too late. The impact of youth work was recognised by the council’s own review in 2011: ‘the evidence base clearly shows that youth work can have a positive impact —– reduces destructive behaviours.’ Youth workers help young people through difficult times, signpost them to services, accompany them to court, support them in finding employment or housing and crucially, young people trust the worker because of the relationship they have built up with them – whether on a rock climbing trip or simply over a game of pool.
Open access work means that young people are not stigmatised and can enjoy their leisure time in a safe space with their peers. I feel the council has a duty to support young people who are not necessarily in ‘trouble’, though they may be having difficulties at home or in school. Research by the Youth Collective in August 2015 found that for every pound spent, over £6 is created in social value.
Last November the council proposed that it would no longer provide open access work but that this would be commissioned from the voluntary sector. Following this a decision was taken to set up a Youth Trust, and money was given by the Government under the Delivering Differently programmes to produce a report: its recommendations were never acted upon, which means £35,000 thrown away. The commissioning process was started and was due to end on December 7th. Local voluntary organisations have spent a great deal of time, as have council officers on these processes. This is a huge cost when budgets are tight.
This cut is being made at the worst possible time. Young people are expected to work hard at school, are put under immense pressure and as we know, many end up with mental health issues. Youth work can be a vital lifeline for them. As it is a voluntary service that young people can choose to engage with, they are often more likely to seek help. Youth work provides a safe space for young people; something we all surely deserve.
Joining a youth club, activity or taking part in discussion groups or activities helps young people to make friends and have good relationships with their peers and adults, a vital part of growing up. Yet again young people in their teenage years and those who work with them are losing resources. Although it may be easier to get protests going about ‘cuter’ causes, we must defend this service.