As someone who spent seven years in the hands of youth services and the committed youth workers who shape them, I feel obliged to shout out and remind everyone why they're so important. I've seen what their provisions have done for me, and what it's done for the many peers who will have benefited from the wealth of services that you won't find tucked away in other parts of local authorities and you can't gain from the curriculum at school.
Labour MP Gerry Sutcliffe, Bradford South, recently proposed an early day motion to make youth services statutory. During the debate which was poorly attended by Tory MPs, Rob Wilson MP, Minister of Civil Society, who has the most influence over youth policy in the UK said: "It cannot be the job of central government to dictate to them what services to deliver or ringfence funding for that purpose". Two of his Conservative colleagues, Bob Blackman MP and Peter Bottomley MP seem to disagree with him and have rightly signed the motion anyway.
The Minister then went on to say: "I believe that effective local youth services are already supported by the existing statutory guidance" despite the fact evidence gathered by his own civil servants earlier in the year suggested that only 41% of local authorities were taking Section 507B of the Education and Inspections Act 2006 into account when making decisions about local youth services. Local authorities currently have a legal duty to provide services and activities for 13-19 year olds and young people under 24 with learning difficulties but the statistics show that local authorities are showing complete disregard for this.
What does this say to the millions of young people across the UK, some of whom are already struggling because of the sharp rise in the cost of living, the struggle to find employment, steep rise in tuition fees and the postcode lottery that has arrived since the removal of the education maintenance allowance. It seems like at every level of the public sector we've seen what comes across as a complete disregard for young people and their growth. Even Boris Johnson has had documents leaked which reveal his staff have been compiling a proposal to cut funding to youth and education schemes by 90%. The plan showed that investment in education and youth activity at City Hall fell from £22.6m this year to £10.4m next year and is planned to full further to £2.3m in 2016/17.
Julie Hilling MP, a former youth worker and current chair of the all-party parliamentary group on youth affairs has said: "[Youth services] connect young people with their communities, enabling them to belong and contribute to society, including through volunteering, and supporting them to have a voice in decisions which affect their lives; offer young people opportunities in safe environments to take part in a wide range of sports, arts, music and other activities"
Since the early day motion was proposed 121 MPs have signed, and I know I'll be contacting my MP calling for her to support, but it's evident to me that to ensure services for young people are a priority across the public sector we need to speak to all of our elected representatives. We don't only have a ping pong game between political parties, we also have a ping pong game between the different levels of government, and it's up to us to ensure local, regional and central government take a stake in the future of young people, their well-being, education and empowerment outside of formal education.
Mita Desai, Chair of the British Youth Council said: "[The Early Day Motion] highlighted the level of cuts - which we at The British Youth Council are appalled at and have been campaigning against for five years, and called for a restoration of a service - with ring-fenced funding, delivered by Local Authority professionally qualified staff. However the debate from our point of view appears to be one of blame and finger pointing between national and local Government - localism versus uneven delivery, or in some cases, almost no delivery at all. From a youth perspective we have no issue with localism - as long as that's not a licence to stop youth services which the current loopholes in guidance permits."
Choose Youth have reminded me that prior to 2009, the National Youth Agency were funded by Government to audit local authorities expenditure figures, without this tool it's hard to track down youth services who are doing great things and hold them up as an examples of youth services that are still prospering. During the same period many youth workers will remember when youth services were then merged into youth support services when a range of specialisms were added to the agenda.
Doug Nicholls, chair of Chose Youth, a coalition of over 30 national organisations campaigning to save youth services said: "The historic role of youth work as an educational service offering personal and social development to young people outside school and work and offering an entirely unique space for young people to grow and develop and for preventative work to be undertaken was lost."
So in a fairly short space of time we've seen huge changes in the expectations of youth services, coupled with the council leaders making huge cuts. This has resulted in some councils being innovative about keeping frontline services intact, while others have cut services to near non existence.
Doug went on to say: "The youth service has not faced austerity, it has experienced ruin."
We don't just owe it to the young people who are most vulnerable to maintain our youth services, we owe it to all young people who have so much potential and are deserving of support that will foster and nurture their interests and needs.