18 December 2019

Once again, we have a new Government. And it looks a lot like the old one, only larger.

Whatever else can be said for this election, young people and the services that support them were more visible in the manifestos of the major parties than any election in recent memory. We know because we read all of the party manifestos! You can read summaries of the most important parts here.

For those of us in the youth sector, this increased attention has had its frustrations. We know that young people are more than ‘youth violence’. We know that youth work in London is more than grey photos of shuttered youth centres. And we know that there’s a lot of ground between a political announcement and change that makes a real difference in the lives of young people.

They may not be perfect, but public commitments have been made to strengthen youth work. We think that’s desperately needed, so we will be holding the Government accountable for delivering these.

We’ve already said what we think Boris Johnson needs to know as Prime Minister. Here are the three Conservative Party Manifesto commitments that we will demand don’t get forgotten in the next five years.

1: £500 million for youth work

Revive our towns and cities (p. 26): Giving young people a future. As well as our investment in schools and technical education, we will invest £500 million in new youth clubs and services.

Simply, austerity has been disastrous for the youth sector. Without the protection in law that other public services have, youth services were an easy target for government departments and local authorities under pressure to dramatically reduce their spending.

A sign of the problems facing the youth sector is nobody even knows exactly how much has been cut, when you consider all of the public services, delivered by central and local government, and the voluntary and community programmes that young people interact with. It’s easy to measure local authority youth service budgets, so that number has become the quoted figure. It’s at least £400 million nationally between 2010 and 2019 and at least a 46% reduction in spending in London since 2011, but the true impact is doubtless larger.

In that context, the Government’s announcement before the election of a £500 million Youth Investment Fund is very welcome news. Even split nationally across five years, it’s the largest reinvestment in youth work in a decade. As ever, the devil is in the detail and we still don’t have much detail.

The headline of the policy has been the creation of 60 new youth centres and the refurbishment of 360 more. What does this mean for the two thirds of the community youth organisations that London Youth works with that do not own their own premises? It’s vital that the Government doesn’t forget that youth work relies on three pillars of youth work all being strong: positive activities delivered through trusted relationships in safe places.

More than anything, the Government will give young people a future if they’re able to give a future to the community youth organisations that support them. That means this big national fund has to reach the grassroots in London communities, where a quarter of all young people in the country live.

2: Prioritise mental health

Strengthen the NHS and social care (p. 11): We will treat mental health with the same urgency as physical health. We will legislate so that patients suffering from mental health conditions, including anxiety or depression, have greater control over their treatment and receive the dignity and respect they deserve.

London can be a difficult place to grow up. According to both the statistics and what young people say, mental ill health is on the rise.

Years of campaigns to raise awareness and destigmatise mental ill health have had a real effect and attitudes are changing. Young people are increasingly aware of, comfortable talking about, and willing to seek support for their mental health. Yet, government figures show that half of the young people referred to mental health services don’t receive treatment, and only a third who need support can access it.

Young people asking for help should get it. Youth workers shouldn’t have to act as frontline mental health professionals, unless they are trained and supported to do so.

3: London finding its own solutions

Supporting local government (p. 29): We remain committed to devolving power to people and places across the UK. Our ambition is for full devolution across England, building on the successful devolution of powers to city region mayors, Police and Crime Commissioners and others, so that every part of our country has the power to shape its own destiny. We will publish an English Devolution White Paper setting out our plans next year.

National politics often sets up a false conflict between London and the rest of the country. Clearly, that narrative simplifies patterns of affluence and gentrification and the complexities and inequalities within London’s 33 local authorities.

When we talk to young people, we tell them how important it is to use their voice and encourage them to make positive change in their communities. When we talk on behalf of young people, we say how vital it is for young people to be involved in the decisions that affect them. That principal applies to government as well, where in many cases it makes more sense for decisions to be made closer to the people they affect. Many of the needs and challenges facing young Londoners will be addressed better by their communities, or by their boroughs, or by all of London acting together.

The UK is one of the most centralised countries in the world, with a lot of decisions and funding sitting at a national level. Did you know that the Mayor of New York controls 50% of all the tax taken in the city, while in London it is barely 7%? London is lucky to already have its own Mayor and other advantages, but this shouldn’t stop London asking for a greater say so we can have more control, more consistency, and more certainty.

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Samuel Howell, Policy Officer

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