Our youth services will be the first to go – consider the greater cost

By - Friday 27th February, 2015

New contributor Alexandra Leonards explores the difficulties facing our young people, and the institutions that they rely on

Ear-splitting voices recoil off the walls of a little hall in South London. The Samuel Coleridge Taylor Youth Centre is host to an assembly of bright faces, hunched over tables submerged in multi-coloured leaflets.

It’s youth work week. A yearly celebration of youth services across the world. The Croydon-based centre celebrates with a lively promotional event for local youth services. Young teens with flushed faces run back and forth, clasping free confectionery. The room seems cheerful. But behind this confident exterior, is a well-hidden fear. The people here may face a rather rotten future.

Youth work, like many other local services, is facing major funding cuts. But legislation that says the funding of youth services is not compulsory, means it is exclusively vulnerable.

“There is no law that says we need it, but the need is there”

“Because top dogs don’t think it’s important enough, it will be the first to go,” says youth worker Chymonne. Chymonne is not alone in this way of thinking. According to a government survey, 73% of all UK councils felt the cutting of funding for all, or nearly all, youth services would be an important trend in the next five years.

“There is no law that says we need it,”says Chymonne. “But the need is there –  we see the need”.

Legislation regarding youth services comes under the Education and Inspections Act 2006. The act is in place to “secure young people’s access to sufficient educational and recreational leisure-time activities” but lists the funding of youth services as not mandatory.

Chymonne, not much older than the youth she supports at work, is part of a charity that provides free advice for young people in Croydon. She is evidently passionate about youth work.

84% of councils believe funding cuts have directly triggered an upsurge of crime and antisocial behaviour

But Chymonne is disappointed at the local authority cuts, which have seen funding plummet by 20% across 97 councils since 2011. “I think it has a great impact on the youths actions, how they feel and on their health”, she says.

Chymonne has seen the impact of the cuts. “It’s obvious in the rise in mental health problems. And the riots – they just think what’s the point?” she says.

According to a recent UNISON report, 84% of councils surveyed believed funding cuts had directly triggered an upsurge of crime and antisocial behaviour, and 69% said it had increased mental health problems.

Leading UK charity Young Minds draws a link between mental health problems and crime, stating that 95% of all imprisoned young offenders have a mental health disorder.

Croydon Council has plans to reduce commissioned youth counselling services by 11%

In Croydon, serious youth violence has increased, even after the 2011 riots. Violent incidents have risen from 298 cases in 2013, to 330 in 2014.

The Mental Health Foundation claims that taking part in local activities for young people is one of the key ways to reduce mental health problems. Despite this, Croydon Council has plans to reduce commissioned youth counselling services by 11%.

Andrew Brown, who is promoting personal development company Elevating Success, is visibly frustrated with the weakening of youth services. “This will have a big effect on future generations. Most will not know about youth clubs,” he says.

Andrew is eminently concerned by the funding cuts. “Not doing the extra-curricular activities that youth have been doing over the last 10-15 years can only lead to trouble” he says. “They’d rather spend money on wars than on their young people”, he adds, with a disappointed expression.

Andrew has noticed changes in his own workplace. “We are now directing more of our activities towards over 18s because of funding cuts”, he says.  Across the UK 41,000 places for young people have vanished since 2012, according to UNISON.

The services that do exist demonstrate a ceaseless dedication to our young people

Andrew is all too familiar with this reality, with an increasingly tangible threat to the number of places at Elevating Success. “Most boroughs are having to cut 30% over the next two, three years. In the next twelve months I might be saying, where are all my young people?” he says urgently.

Andrew links the slowly fading youth service sector to legislation “I recently had a meeting with someone from Lewisham youth services, they said all they have to do to follow the law is inform young people of where activities are. Which can just be showing them a website!” he says in disbelief.

As a 14 year old who regularly attends drama therapy at The Samuel Coleridge Taylor Centre says: “As a young person I don’t think the cuts or laws are really fair. There are lots of children on the street doing bad stuff and they believe they have nowhere to go”. The energetic girl, who is attending open mic scheme Croydon Wordfest with just a handful of peers, says that “there are places, but the government just doesn’t do enough for them”.

With 2000 jobs lost, cuts of £60 million and 350 youth centres closed since 2012 across the UK, the disappearance of youth services is growing more and more palpable.

However, it is youth services like The Samuel Coleridge Taylor Centre that demonstrate a ceaseless dedication to our young people. Harnessing this determination, alongside an increase in local authority funding, would guarantee a brighter future for the UK’s young population.

Alexandra Leonards

Alexandra Leonards

I have lived in Thornton Heath my whole life. I have a degree in English and creative writing from Manchester Metropolitan University, and am now studying for an MA in multimedia journalism here in London. I am a fervent writer, and an idealist, and so journalism, with its capacity to permeate society and prompt change, appeals to me beyond any other pathway.

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  • John Gass

    Thank you for writing this article – it gives a clear and unambiguous insight into the local situation, highlighting important issues that, directly or indirectly, affect us all.

    And welcome to the Citizen!

  • Stephen Giles

    Many thanks for your excellent article – it’s interesting to point out that in the 1960s these youth services which are regretfully being cut now were barely in existence, and of course being years before computers and mobile phones were available, we had no alternative but to search them out ourselves!

  • szczels

    Thanks for this article. Alexandra do you know about the Thornton Heath Blog on https://theheath.wordpress.com ? If you have Heath related writing you’d be welcome to put it there.