This week is ‘Youth Work Week 2020’, a week dedicated to recognising the important contribution youth workers make to our community, providing young people with the support and encouragement they need to realise their potential.
Unfortunately, youth work is to a large extent now a career in decline, as councils balance their budgets by cutting those services targeted at young people to focus on their statutory services. I was first elected as a Northgate councillor shortly after West Sussex County Council had cut youth provision in the neighbourhood and over the years which have followed, where once youth services were provided across West Sussex by the county council those services which are left are a patchwork of independent providers organised on a charitable footing.
Despite the challenges these groups continue to do amazing work with the limited resources they have at their disposal. Yet, how far can this be sustained? Demand for youth work has trebled since the start of the pandemic, with young people losing access to many other support structures. Youth work provides open-access support, guidance and non-formal education to young people across the UK, with a safe space for young people to go to, things to do and someone to talk to who knows what is needed.
Commenting on the situation, Cllr Peter Lamb, Leader of Crawley Borough Council, said: “Through the government’s response to the pandemic, young people are seeing their futures disappear, exacerbating mental health challenges, hitting younger workers’ jobs and pay, and widening educational inequalities.
“Crawley already has amongst lowest levels of social mobility in the country and everything which is happening now can only make that situation worse. At this time of crisis, youth services are a vital lifeline, providing our young people with a safe space and the support they need to get through this. Now is the time for the government to take investment in youth services seriously again, rather than allowing what remains of them to slip away.”