Youth Services

Part of Kew Gardens (Leases) (No. 3) Bill [Lords] – in the House of Commons at 5:23 pm on 24th July 2019.

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Photo of Lyn Brown Lyn Brown Shadow Minister (Treasury) 5:23 pm, 24th July 2019

Between January 2017 and March 2018, nine young people were killed in my constituency. Most of them died as a result of knife crime. That number represents only the very worst cases. It does not include young people who have been injured. It does not include the children being exploited, and trafficked, along county lines. It does not include the videos of teenagers driving around our local streets with their faces covered, brandishing knives and threatening violence. It does not include the fear that all these things breed in my community: the fear of parents sending their children to school; the fear of teachers with a duty of care; and the fear—real, palpable fear—of the young people themselves.

I have spoken several times in this place about knife crime and what we need to do to stop it. I have been making seven key demands of Government. Some are responsive, such as peripatetic mental health units that would help families and communities deal with the trauma of a violent attack once it has happened, but some are preventive, such as establishing new and trusted reporting systems for young people, so that we can work with young people to stop these tragedies happening.

My demand for proper youth investment is different, because youth services can do both—they can play a role in the prevention of crime as well as providing a comfortable, safe place. Spending time with a youth worker enables children to build up resilience. It allows them to test ideas and to develop coping strategies. It allows them to get support, to talk, to share and to question. When they are facing problems, a youth service helps a young person connect with agencies that can help them. Youth services can often broker that and provide trust in those agencies. Alternatively, a youth service can simply give advice from a trusted adult.

Youth services are about so much more than just fixing crime. I remember going to a youth club when I was young. It was at St John’s in north Woolwich. I received validation of my rights as a young person that I did not get from anywhere else. I do not think I would have got the confidence that has eventually led to me being here without that youth service. I want to publicly and belatedly thank Esther Wilson, Anne King, Nick Nicholls and Dave Butcher. I would not have made it without them.

Youth workers provide a really important education to young people. That is not a formal, academic education, but an education in skills that are massively important. For some young people, youth clubs will be the only place where there are older people who they can trust. Those adults can help all young people to learn to interpret the world with their peers and to interact with adults, as well as providing them with role models and safe places for creativity, cultural expression and cultural exploration. They allow young people to develop so many different skills. It is what policy wonks call cultural and social capital—basically, many of the things that middle-class children hopefully take for granted.

Since 2010, we have lost so many excellent youth workers. Across this city, since the 2011-12 financial year, 104 youth centres and projects have permanently closed and a massive 562 youth workers have been put out of a job. That is a tragedy, because it has led to tragedy. That is why I am delighted that the London Borough of Newham is pursuing a huge expansion of youth services. There will be £1.4 million of investment and 33 new full-time roles—potentially the largest ever recruitment of youth workers in the UK. Our young people in Newham have been asking for that. Fortunately, the Labour Mayor and the Labour council have listened to them.

The new services will be up and ready by the end of this year, and I know they will make a huge positive difference. We only need to listen to the testimony of children to understand why. Newham parents whose children spent last summer with youth clubs and council-funded youth services said it was the best summer their children had had. One young man said:

“The youth centre was a place that they offered me support, and the only worker who didn’t judge me, and actually attended all my meetings, was the youth worker. She never gave up on me, even when I gave up on myself.”

Those life-changing and, I suggest, life-preserving experiences need to be available to children across the country. How about the Minister matching the Labour promise of statutory youth services in every single area, so that no child misses out? Once she does that, she must ensure she does not pass the youth service buck without the bucks to match.