Listening to the Today programme, I couldn't help but get wound up by yet another lengthy analysis of the downfall of Kids Company. Could all of this air time and column inches not be better spent? While the Kids Company story could run endlessly due to the embarrassment it causes to several individuals in public office, young people's services are falling apart. The fact that successive governments funded Kids Company against advice suggests that at least on some level they did identify a need to invest in youth work.
And yet whilst the media is debating which civil servant or Minister should have blown the whistle, young Londoners are being hit harder by benefit cuts than any other demographic group in the country. 592,000 children are living in poverty in London and as a result are more at risk of being vulnerable to local gang culture, poor mental health or extremist ideology. Investment in local youth services is declining by at best 50%, and in some boroughs, to completely non-existent.
Good youth work helps young people develop the confidence, resilience and leadership skills they need to be healthy, navigate a fulfilling career and make a positive impact on their community.
Yet at London Youth our network of 400 community youth clubs have been under-invested in for far too long. However much they are striving to become social enterprises independent of government funding, the needs of young people are increasing and the resources and referral routes available to them are getting less and less.
As Tim Loughton MP identified on the Today Programme, there are hundreds of good organisations striving to work with young people up and down the country.
What we need to focus on is to support those organisations to ensure they are:
- Delivering high quality youth work - evidenced through robust impact and process evaluation, reaching young people who need them most
- In sustainable organisations - assessed through quality assurance to ensure good governance, safeguarding practice and diversity of income
- Embedded in their communities - working closely with local police, neighbours, schools and health agencies to ensure efficient and joined-up services
I know the tap is not going to be turned back on for statutory investment. But I think the conversation we need to have as a society is what kind of future do we want for the next generation and how do we ensure high quality, sustainable support to help them get there.
I hope that the story of Kids Company helps ministers and government departments rethink their responsibilities with regard to young people rather than just embarrass them into pulling even further away.
And I hope that an incoming London Mayor will hear this call and ensure that young Londoners are a priority across all policy areas.
I realise I'm writing into a void here, but PLEASE can we stop unpicking over the carcass of Kids Company and talk about the needs of young people and how we ensure they thrive.