Over the last few weeks, there have been plenty of talks on the kinds of economic reforms that should take place in the aftermath of the coronavirus pandemic. An NHS long-term funding proposal by the Department of Health, a £2bn energy-saving home scheme and a £1.57bn support package for the arts sector are just some of the developments that are in the works – but we have yet to hear about the government’s plan for the young people of this country.
It’s easy to forget that the average young person in Britain today cannot simply go to Costa Coffee for a quick catch up with their friends or to the local pub for a drink. The result is more and more young people ‘lingering’ around the street, in a friend’s apartment or car.
For members of the younger generation, this won't come as much of a surprise. After all, the average young person across Britain would be far more likely to go to a well-developed community centre, if there indeed was one, than pay a trip to an art museum like the V&A.
Local community spaces ought to play an important role in the lives of the British youth, but the truth is that in most cases across the country - they don’t. Youth centre initiatives in the UK, when compared to its fellow European countries, are lacking.
This is mainly due to the fact that following the European Youth Revolt, in which many thousands of students took to the streets to protest their living situations, countries like Germany engaged in substantial changes to their social policies, actively opening and developing youth centres all across the country. Whilst on one of my many walks in Germany last year, I came across not one, not two but three different youth centres. Compare this to the number of youth centres I saw growing up in Manchester, which as it currently stands is still zero.
The only youth centre I had heard of during my schooling years was located far away and soon enough this one too had been shut despite community efforts to keep it open.
The UK similarly needs to see urgent policy changes that put now put youth intervention at the forefront of its stratagem because the truth is where the previous governing ministers have pledged to reform the sector, they have – time and time again - failed to deliver their promises.
Before Covid-19 swept in and quarantined the masses into total oblivion, Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden had made the pledge that £7m would be put towards a Youth Accelerator Fund with the primary aim of ‘expanding existing successful projects’ and funding grassroots youth organisations across the country. Whilst this may sound great on the face of it, it is not clear - when looking at the sizeable cuts that have left youth services struggling and teenagers roaming the streets – that this is enough.
Between a six-year-period from 2010 to 2016, £387m had been cut from youth services resulting in the loss of an estimated 600 youth centres. And by the end of last year, the average expenditure on youth services had dropped from £1.4bn to just under £429m, resulting in a total loss of 4,500 youth workers and the closure of 750 youth centres. Regionally, the North of England has seen the most substantial impact of these cuts. Leeds, Manchester, and Birmingham are all areas that have seen this issue acutely manifest. In Trafford region of Manchester alone, 7 youth centres were closed last year.
More affluent areas within the UK seem to have preserved youth institutions far better than the deprived areas, but it is clear that it’s the more deprived areas that tend to need these services more urgently.
Lack of youth intervention is said to go hand in hand with forms of weaponized crime, that is crimes involving an ‘offensive weapon’, becoming ever more prevalent. Data taken from the Home Office list Greater Manchester as the second from UK cities to be most affected by serious knife crime.
Offensive weapon offences are on a steep rise in the city, with the rate of crimes having doubled between 2016 and 2018. In 2018, Greater Manchester Police reported 2,553 knife crimes – a rise of 35 percent. This is equivalent to up to 9 knife crimes a day across Greater Manchester.
As youth services have struggled along with fewer and fewer resources, teenagers have been left roaming the streets. A council near Moss Side, one of Manchester’s most deprived areas, with its income massively below the national average*, has faced frequent complaints of ‘gang-like groups’.
Groups of young people that spend their time in and around their cars are often deemed ‘intimidating’ or a perceived ‘threat’ to the community. In many of these cases, however, there is no other observable space for these individuals to go together.
Youth centres - when properly funded and developed – can be transformational for the lives of young people. They provide an accessible and safe space for our youth to go and are vital for the development of those underserved communities that need them the most.
The new economic reforms that will take place in the aftermath of the coronavirus crisis are an opportunity to finally invest in a sector that has long been neglected and underfunded.