‘Youth services are a right for every young person – the government must recognise this’

By Seema Chandwani | Twitter @SeemaChandwani

This month will mark 17 years since my first paid youth work job. It has been the most rewarding thing in my life and I am blessed to have worked doing something I love and enjoy.

For the past three years I’ve been privileged enough to work on the Positive Youth News Haringeyproject. My friends are amazed at what the young people achieve in the borough and think I am one of the luckiest people in the world to do what I do.

But, the PYN Haringey project has never proclaimed to have assisted in the achievements of young people in Haringey, we merely capture Haringey young people’s successes and ensure the wider community is aware and celebrates what they have done.

The hard work was done by them and in many cases in Haringey, by youth workers and centres across the borough.

A good example of that is Bruce Grove Youth Centre in Tottenham which is run by Haringey Council.

This month alone, young people who have come through the youth centre have celebrated their graduation with firsts, have written articles for national newspapers, have succeeded in their careers by becoming a reporter for Channel 4 News and one has even become a councillor for Haringey Council.

In a borough like Haringey, protecting youth services is vital to give our young people the best possible start in life, especially when they face socio-economic challenges that already disadvantage them as they compete in a regional and often global jobs market.

With outcomes like those illustrated above, it is clear Haringey Council made the right decision to keep funding directly-delivered youth services and approve a three-year youth strategy in September 2013 to carry us through to 2017.

But it is a pitiful shame that some other boroughs across the UK are closing youth services and do not have the insight nor political nous to recognise that savings are made not by cuts, but by investment in prevention that reduces the cost of cure and enables social mobility. There is no better service that has practised such an ethos than the youth service, which has done so for decades.

Sadly we cannot merely rely on decisions by politicians in town halls to have this foresight and intelligence, especially as many have never visited a youth centre nor care enough to do so.

Despite young people making up often up to a quarter of the population in any one borough, politicians often launch low, shameless and lazy attacks on youth services as they know young people have no voting power.

So youth workers across the UK have to campaign for an additional layer of protection. This month the National Union of Students alongside Unite, the National Youth Agency and many others have launched their campaign to make local authority youth services a statutory service, with ring-fenced government funding to ensure they are delivered by councils like they are in Haringey.

Last week, Tottenham’s MP David Lammy, a long-term supporter of youth services, signed an Early Day Motion in parliament to support this campaign and joined more than 7,000 people who have signed the public petition.

We might be lucky in Haringey to have politicians clever enough to have passed a youth service strategy until 2017, valuing young people enough to ensure it is funded.

But stronger protections need to come from government to enable young people in any part of the country to have a right to these services, not for it to be left to chance.

This piece was also featured in the Tottenham Journal