My hon. Friend makes an excellent plea for youth services. There is a particular need in areas that are being targeted by county lines, which are having an impact on young people’s lives. This really highlights the importance of today’s debate. I am pleased to see that so many Members want to speak, so with the permission of other Members, I will make some progress with my speech so that we can hear from Back Benchers.
The loss of this open access youth work has had a devastating impact on young people’s lives because they simply cannot get any of the support they need when they do not meet the threshold for the targeted interventions. As a result, young people have lost the role models—someone who they can build a trusted relationship with—who can empower them to realise their own strengths and divert them away from potential harms. They have lost safe spaces: somewhere to go outside school hours to develop social networks and friendship groups outside school and to have a sense of belonging and ownership in their local area. They have also lost opportunities—to learn new skills, to take part in social action projects and perhaps even to re-engage with education.
As Parliament goes into recess and schools go into their summer holidays, the impact of these cuts on young people’s lives will be felt to an even greater extent. I welcome the Minister’s announcement in her opening remarks of £400 million funding for sport this summer, with the national lottery, but it strikes me as being too little too late, given that the schools are breaking up for their summer holidays this week, as we are doing here in Westminster. In this context, it is hardly surprising that we are seeing chronic levels of loneliness and mental ill health and a rising number of children and young people tragically involved in knife crime and gangs. This is supported by research conducted by the all-party parliamentary group on knife crime, which found that local authority areas suffering the largest cuts to spending on young people have seen the biggest increases in knife crime.
The Government decision to slash youth services for the sake of short-term cash savings is reckless and short-sighted. Last Friday, I visited Central Lancaster High School in my constituency, where I discussed with the head the challenges the school faces in supporting young people without having a youth service to pick up the pieces outside the school gates. The head told me that the school has had to invest heavily in student support officers, behaviour mentors and alternative provision education programmes—for example, the Queensberry alternative provision programme, which works with students at risk of exclusion to engage them in projects and activities and which has led to a massive shift in their attitudes and behaviours, with one year 10 student saying,
“Queensberry helps me to think before I do”,
and another saying,
“I think more about the impact of what I do.”
Such programmes allow young people the space to reflect, which is not often found in the school environment. However, this school-based provision comes at significant cost to the school budget, which is already diminishing in real terms year on year.