Between the ages of six and nineteen I used to regularly attend two social / sporting clubs a week. Sometimes up to four evenings a week, I was out at one or other of these activities. I came from a not-well-off Working Class family, especially when my parents split up when I was eleven, so this isn’t some tale of a Middle Class family forking out lots of money so their young one could do nice things. No, the fees, such as they were, for joining these groups, was quite low.
But what they taught me was priceless and stays with me to this day. Being part of these organisations enabled me to make friends, to join in activities, to be part of the community, to stay on the straight and narrow, and to see a wider landscape of what I might achieve when I was older.
Of course what happens in school is important in terms of the course our lives take, but the impact and importance of out-of-school Youth Services, whether run by statutory agencies or charities, can and often do play a vital role in the overall well-being of our young people and therefore a determining factor in how they behave and perform when in the classroom itself.
Which is why it’s been so shocking and upsetting to see the near decimation of Youth Services in all too many parts of the Country in recent years and why myself and Linda Jack, among others, are calling for an assessment of where these services need restarting and reinvestment.
Indeed it’s got to a stage where the National Youth Agency (NYA) has launched a part of its website called ‘Cuts Watch,’ where it lists the seemingly endless cuts made by many local authorities up and down the Country who, in turn, (rightly or wrongly), blame the national Coalition Government for the cuts they’ve demanded of Local Government.
In Leicestershire, where I live, the Tory-run County Council has proposed a further £800,000 cut in family and youth services which is likely to mean the loss of things such as youth counselling and youth activities.
In my part of the County, Hinckley and Bosworth, the Lib Dem-run Borough Council, of which I’m a member, has said it’ll do all it possibly can to try and mitigate the worst effects of these massive cuts but it’s almost inevitable that some services will be at the very least reduced if not fully closed.
What about elsewhere in the Country?
Here’s a few examples of some of the cuts being made (from the NYA website):
Dudley Council is considering potential cuts of up to 50% to youth services in the next financial year. The Council hopes that voluntary and community sector organisations will fill gaps in provision. Protests have occurred within the local community, but had little impact on plans.
Cardiff Council intends to make £37million of cuts in the 2015/16 budget. Youth provision is likely to be heavily impacted but the full extent is currently unclear. Community groups are expected to fill the gap.
Bradford was facing cuts of 79% to its youth service however, following action from the community, this has been changed to 36%.
London is likely to see 90% cuts to youth services, following revelations in Mayor’s Question Time in November. This would see funding drop from £22.6m to £2.3m by 2016/17.
North Yorkshire needs to make reductions of £74 million in the next financial year and youth services will be reduced in that (though the Council says statutory obligations will still be met.)
But we need to remember that behind these massive sums are real young people, with real lives who need these real services which are being reduced or, indeed, closed.
It seems to me that all too much of Government, both local and national, is prepared to cut, cut and cut again when it comes to services / benefits for young people.
No one dare touch a pound or a penny of senior citizens benefits most of the time, so why is the axe constantly falling on youth services and provision for our young people? I guess the truth is we need to look at the RealPolitik of the situation.
Senior Citizens are a major and therefore powerful voting block, so politicians - both local and national - pay keen heed to what their demands are. Young adults aged 18-25 need to become just as powerful a voting block. That’s why I go into schools and colleges encouraging young people to vote. I also support Votes at Sixteen.
We Liberal Democrats state in the preamble to our constitution that ‘the Liberal Democrats exist to build and safeguard a fair, free and open society...and in which no one shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity.’
It further states, ‘We believe that the role of the state is to enable all citizens to...contribute fully to their communities and to take part in the decisions which affect their lives.’
We must never forget our young people or leave them behind in the decision-making process.
They are our future.
This is why, in recent months, at the Lib Dems Party Parliamentary Committee on Education, Families and Young People, Linda and myself, among others, have championed the need to ensure these out-of-school Youth Services are supported, invested in and allowed to thrive...to the benefit of millions of our young people.
I, personally, also support the British Youth Council in their call for the value of Youth Services to be recognised. They are entirely right. These cuts are, quite frankly, a disgrace and they must stop now.
I very much hope that our manifesto will include a commitment to invest in Youth Services.
Myself and Linda attempted to get a motion debated on these matters at the 2015 Spring Conference but weren’t successful on this occasion...though we won’t stop there, of course. We’ll continue the fight for as long as it takes to succeed.
Our young people deserve nothing less.
Councillor Mathew Hulbert is on the Social Liberal Forum Council, the Lib Dems Party Parliamentary Committee on Education, Families and Young People, and is Hinckley and Bosworth Borough Council’s Children and Young People’s Champion.