Labour pledges new protections for youth work to counter decade of cuts

By Nina Jacobs

| 22 May 2019

Many parts of the UK no longer have a "recognisable" youth service thanks to nearly a decade of cuts to local authority funding, the Labour Party has said.

Cat Smith MP has set out Labour's youth work vision. Image: Parliament UK

Shadow minister for voter engagement and youth affairs Cat Smith said the loss of youth work in communities has had a "devastating impact on young lives" resulting in chronic levels of loneliness, mental health issues and rising knife crime.

Speaking at the General Federation of Trade Unions' general council meeting earlier this week, the MP for Lancaster and Fleetwood set out Labour's vision for rebuilding youth services if it wins the next election.

"Young people have lost role models - someone who can build their aspirations and empower them to recognise their strengths, and divert them away from harm.

"Young people have lost safe spaces - somewhere to be creative, develop social groups and friendships, and have a sense of belonging and ownership over their local area.

"Young people have lost opportunities - to learn new skills, take part in social action projects, and re-engage in education.

"As a result, there are many young people growing up today with nowhere to go, nothing to do and no one to speak to outside of school and their home environment," she said.

Under the party's proposals, new legislation would be introduced to ensure young people could access youth work in their area and to hold their local authority to account for any gaps in provision, said Smith.

"A major flaw in the current system is the lack of statutory protections for youth work.

"We believe this statutory obligation must be strengthened, which is why a future Labour government will introduce new legislation that clearly defines a base-level of sufficiency to reflect every young person's right to access high-quality youth work and provision," she said.

A national charter for youth work would be drawn up containing all "key elements" of youth provision that is underpinned in law, she added.

Smith said councils would be required to develop a diverse, universal youth services offer, to establish and submit long-term plans for local delivery and to set out a local workforce development strategy.

Last year Labour outlined its plans for a national body with a ringfenced budget to oversee and fund youth service provision.

The youth service partnership, made up of young people, parents, professionals and local politicians, would be responsible for providing strategic leadership, assessing provision in the area and publishing a local youth strategy.

Smith said spending on youth services had fallen by 70 per cent since 2010, leading to the closure of around 760 youth centres and the loss of more than 4,500 youth work jobs.

"The de-professionalisation of youth work is another key challenge for the sector.

"Over the last decade, many qualified youth workers have migrated into other occupations leaving real challenges for organisations seeking to recruit professional youth work staff and increasing the dependency on volunteers," she said.

The creation of secure and permanent full-time youth work positions was a priority for Labour and a new workforce strategy would help to regrow the workforce, she added.

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