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House of Commons Hansard
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Youth (Services and Provisions)
06 June 2018
Volume 642

Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)

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I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to require the Secretary of State to promote and secure youth services and provision of a requisite standard; to impose a duty on local authorities to provide youth services and establish local youth service partnerships with youth participation; and for connected purposes.

There is no doubt that youth services improve the life chances of individual young people, taking them beyond the constraints of the contours of their neighbourhoods and offering them new experiences of everything from the arts to outdoor adventures. Young people gain from those experiences. Youth work supports but does not replace formal education. It enhances the readiness for learning in the classroom and learning in life, but it does not only help young people in the classroom; it also helps them to develop the skills and attitudes that are needed for the employment about which the Prime Minister was so boastful today, and, of course, for general adult life, by giving them a chance to learn to relate better to each other and to different adults in a safe and challenging environment. They are enhanced, and our communities are enhanced.

Despite all that, however, a 2016 study showed that 600 youth centres had closed around the country, 3,500 youth workers had lost their jobs, and 140,000 places for young people had been lost. We should bear it in mind that those figures are two years old, and the cuts have only continued. Research carried out this year by the House of Commons Library has shown what the cuts have meant in terms of funding. In 2010 we spent £1.2 billion on youth work, youth services and related youth activity; last year we spent £358 million, which amounts to a 68% cash-terms cut.

I do not know what service or provision would survive that, and the youth sector certainly has not. Many parts of our country now have no youth service at all. Young people simply seek somewhere to go, something to do and someone to speak to. That is the simplest of mottos, but it sums up what youth work is about. Youth workers can prevent young people from undertaking harmful behaviour, and give them advice so that they can make informed decisions. So starkly is all this being felt that young people aged between 16 and 24 are now the highest demographic age group for feeling lonely. One in 10 say that they always or often feel lonely, which is a disgrace. When young people do reach out for help, in my city alone, they can face 12 months to see a professional while their mental health continues to spiral downwards.

However, the problem is not just mental health, but crime as well. Young people who are devoid of positive influences can fall foul of negative ones. The Office for National Statistics has found that knife crime has increased by 22% in a year. We have also heard that the Ministry of Justice is cutting youth offending budgets in real terms this year—and so the misery goes on.

Our news media, and some of us in the Chamber, often characterise young people as the problem. The language used to describe some of the problems that they face is a constant reinforcement of that, referring to “youth gangs” and “young offenders”. The empowerment of young people as actors for positive change is constantly diminished in the narrative that they are a problem to be contained, to be ignored, or to be dealt with. Well, I think we are the problem. Youth work has a positive impact on young people’s lives, and what have we done? We have cut, and cut, and cut again, and then we blame young people when things fall apart. Our young people are not the problem—our inability to support and listen to them is.

I say proudly that I worked in my local youth service for many years and at the National Youth Agency, and I am proud to say that I was also a voluntary group leader in my local youth group, the Woodcraft Folk, and its national chair. Of course, before that, I was a young person involved in the Youth Parliament and British Youth Council.

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Not so very long ago.

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Thank you. These three roles—young person, voluntary youth leader and professional youth worker—are distinct, but so often they are confused. In times of cuts, voluntary youth organisations are now having to step into professional statutory youth services, with volunteers overworked and frankly under-qualified for the technical detail. Young people have to organise their own activities without the previous support of the voluntary youth leaders who are so busy picking up the pieces. My Bill seeks to clarify the position following the guidelines set out by the Council of Europe and give registered youth workers a footing in law.

Most parents and members of the public will be surprised that the role of youth worker has no professional standards, as there are, say, for teachers, and anyone can profess to be a youth worker. My Bill seeks to redress that while celebrating the important role of voluntary youth leaders in our voluntary youth sector. Youth workers are all too often dismissed. They work long hours in difficult circumstances, often without a “thank you”. For my part, I would like to place on record a sincere thank you to the youth workers who have come to Parliament today to help to lobby for this Bill and for the importance of youth work generally. Thank you for staying back late and having a chat with that young person going through crisis. Thank you for organising those weekend trips or sports activities. Thank you for applying for those grants to give your young people the opportunities that they would never have had. Youth workers’ work is important and that is why they need support, but their support needs resource.

Some may say that councils already have the power to provide resources and to choose to fund youth services, but we know that in times of tight budgets, councils up and down the country are unable to spend what they would like and focus only on statutory provision. The Education and Inspections Act 2006 places a duty on local authorities to secure access to provision, but there are no definitions in that Act of what access to provision would look like, and the Government and councils have largely ignored it. There is little guidance on securing access. There is no requirement to develop plans or monitor the sufficiency of these services. There is no redress if councils fail in this duty and importantly, there is no funding to make sure that it happens.

My Bill rectifies that. It requires each authority to establish a youth services board with young people, parents, professionals and councillors—just like a school governing body—that will assess and plan the provision in that area. My Bill requires the plans to be submitted to the Secretary of State to nominate a body to review those plans. Many bodies exist: the National Youth Agency, for example, hosts much of the standard setting and the joint negotiating bodies for youth work already, but since 2011, it has received no Government funding and has had no statutory underpinning for its work. So bad has the situation got that the all-party group on youth affairs, which I chair, is launching an inquiry into youth services across the country, seeking out good examples and challenges. We have asked MPs to join us and we hope to develop a parliamentary scheme for MPs to visit youth clubs and youth centres around the country during recess. While that cross-party work goes on separately from the Bill, I hope that it too will raise the plight of youth services in our country.

It was the UK that first established clubs such as the YMCA and the Scouts and which pioneered a voluntary youth work sector. The UK, first in Coventry and then in councils around the country, established municipal youth clubs and showed the world how youth services could be run, but these gains have all been whittled or even swept away along with the futures of our young people. This is to our shame. A country where every young person has somewhere to go, someone to speak to and something to do is surely not too much to ask.

Question put and agreed to.

Ordered,

That Lloyd Russell-Moyle, Emma Hardy, Emma Dent Coad, Thelma Walker, Catherine West, Alex Sobel, Rosie Duffield, Liz Twist, Danielle Rowley, Grahame Morris and Karen Lee present the Bill.

Lloyd Russell-Moyle accordingly presented the Bill.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 26 October, and to be printed (Bill 221).