Youth Services

Part of Kew Gardens (Leases) (No. 3) Bill [Lords] – in the House of Commons at 6:06 pm on 24th July 2019.

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Photo of Ruth George Ruth George Labour, High Peak 6:06 pm, 24th July 2019

It gives me great pleasure to follow my hon. Friend Lloyd Russell-Moyle, who is such an expert and has done so much work in this field. I shall speak about our experience of youth work and youth services in a corner of north Derbyshire.

Last September, I visited Fairfield youth club, the only evening youth club left in our rural community. There were 60 or so young people there, having fun, chatting, and engaging with the staff. They wanted to make a video with me. They asked if I would interview them about what they wanted for their area and their hopes for the future. Once the camera was on them and I was asking questions, those young people opened up in a way that I will never forget. They spoke about their youth centre and youth club as a safe place to go. Their friends had fallen prey to the drug gangs, and it was the only place out of the house where they could go and feel safe.

Even in High Peak, our beautiful rural corner of Derbyshire, we have drug gangs preying on young people who are hanging around, as young people do when they have nowhere to go and nothing to do. I spoke to all our headteachers of secondary schools shortly before the end of term, and they highlighted to me how concerned they were about the summer holidays and about the preying on young people that they had already seen in term time. Parents would phone them up, worried about whether they should pay a drug debt for their child. Drug gangs would give a child drugs and tell them to sell them to their friends and would then come seeking the money. There were young people, often from ordinary middle-class families, owing £1,000 in drug debt, and being told that their bodies would be smashed if they or their parents did not pay. That is what we see, unfortunately, and I am sure that my area is far from being different from other places, especially ones that border large cities.

At the same time as all that, under universal credit, we have seen parents with children, the youngest of whom was 12, forced to seek work full time for 35 hours a week, regardless of school holidays. I have spoken to Save the Children about the threat to our young people and their safety and security. The other week, I spoke to a parent whose children are 12 and eight years old. She was told that she could go out to work and leave her 12-year-old in charge of her eight-year-old throughout the summer holidays. If that is the sort of advice parents are being given by a Government agency, what hope do our children have?

We are not only seeing the decimation of support services. In Derbyshire, not only has every youth worker been given redundancy, but hundreds of early-help support workers for families have disappeared, as have our sexual health clinics, where so many young people could go when they disclose sexual abuse. We have seen our school nurses halved and our police force halved. At the same time as all that, parents are told that they should be out looking for work full time and leaving young people alone.

We have been desperate for summer holiday provision, which used to be provided by our youth services but is no longer. We no longer even have youth clubs that the county council provides statutorily. We used to have eight or nine youth workers locally, and 80 throughout Derbyshire; the number has gone down to eight across the entire county. Those places left are for supporting voluntary groups and parents who set up clubs and voluntary provision. That is fine, but as has been pointed out, voluntary groups often cannot provide the continuity and the sort of support that youth workers can give.

The youth workers in my area have been instrumental in supporting young people with the disclosure of sexual abuse, to deal with disability and mental health issues and to resist the drugs gangs that prey on them. That is not a job that we can ask volunteers to do. We have some wonderful voluntary groups. I pay tribute to parents, a wonderful group of whom set up a Monday-night youth club in Chinley, a village in my constituency. They see 80 or 90 young people come from all across the area because there is nothing else on.

We have sports teams, and we have Beavers, Cubs, Scouts, Brownies, Guides and Sea Scouts. There are some fantastic activities going on and a real wealth of provision for some young people, but such activities often cost money. Cubs and Scouts costs £30 for a term, and often more for different trips. There are sports clubs on the private finance initiative-provided playing fields, but it costs £6 or £7 a night to play football. That is not something that parents on a low income can pay. The most vulnerable young people often feel that they cannot take part in guided activities and are not prepared to do that.

Young people often want to hang out. We have some brilliant youth centres, which were provided next to our parks, in exactly the place where young people want to hang out and to get a bit of support as well. When I spent a day in one of my local secondary schools, I spoke to some year 9s—they were 13 and 14-year-olds—and said, “What do you want from your area? What do you want from your politicians?” Their answer was that they wanted a covered bench so that they had somewhere to sit that was out of the rain—so that they could sit and chat with their friends and not get wet. It is not very much to ask.

In the same town, there is a youth centre right next to the park. It was exactly what young people needed. It used to provide youth services on a Tuesday and Friday night. Young people could run in and out, talk to the staff, get a drink, have fun and get support at the same time. That is exactly the sort of provision we need. We have the buildings there, but they are mothballed—they are not in use anymore—and the staff have just been given redundancy notices. Staff with years of experience who are trusted among young people across our communities are, with very heavy hearts, having to give up the jobs that they loved and believed in.

We need our young people to have such support. I am delighted to hear the Minister say that she will put in place more statutory guidelines and that she wants the UK to be the best place in which young people can grow up, but I am afraid that one of our youth workers told me the other week that it is a terrible time to be both a young person in Derbyshire and a youth worker. This is tough not just on our young people, but on the people who work with them. It takes years to build not just the apprenticeships, but the experience and dedication of those members of staff. At the moment, we are seeing their skills and that dedication put on the scrapheap. This Government need urgently to put in place long-term, funded, ring-fenced statutory provision for young people before we see any more suffer and made vulnerable.

I am providing a summer school for 16 to 24-year-olds this week. It has been a real honour to interact with those young people, to hear about their hopes and dreams and to get them planning and campaigning on what they want to do. They will be out tomorrow in one of our local towns, holding a drop-in for young people to talk about politics, to register to vote, to get involved and to have a say. As Members of Parliament, that is something that we can all do. Young people want to be able to change things, but they are left powerless. We can put power into their hands. We can give them the support that they need. My hon. Friend Lyn Brown spoke very movingly about the support that she had that enabled her to get to where she is today. That is what we need to do for all our young people, and I hope that the Government will not just listen but act.