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Still nowhere to turn for lost generation

SCOTTIE Press has been fighting for a better deal for local teenagers for more than 40 years. In a 1977 issue, we led a campaign to fight for youth clubs in the area ,after severe cuts left young people congregating on the streets and up to no good. Fast-forward to today — and the issue is still prevalent in Vauxhall, with fewer youth clubs than ever.

Since 2010, Liverpool has lost 84 council employed youth workers, cutting the number from 110 to just 26. Meanwhile, the average spend on youth services per local authority is a third of what it was just a decade ago — dropping from £7.79m to £2.45m in 2020.

UNISON’s head of local government, Jon Richards, warns that young people are paying the price of 10 years of austerity and widespread youth club closures.

“A generation of young people have been robbed of the safety net of youth centres,” he said. “It’s no surprise there’s been an increase in unemployment, mental health problems and gang-related activity. The short-sighted closing of youth centres will be felt for years to come — with some young people paying the ultimate price.”

His comments come after a report from YMCA England and Wales revealed there have been £400 MILLION of cuts to youth service spending since 2010 — which is when the Conservative government first came to power.

YMCA is the biggest — and oldest — youth charity in the world, focusing on young people in the community. Each year the charity supports more than 33,500 young people through youth work, with almost 8,000 involved in crime prevention and avoidance programmes.

Aimee Reilly, a senior representative from YMCA, told Scottie Press: “Previously, when there were youth clubs, if a young person fell out with their parents they could talk to a youth worker who could help them with that relationship.

“But when there are no trusted adult relationships outside of parenting, that is when young people turn to their peers — or to those with the loudest voices — and for some that leads to gangs.
“For lots of these young people who are either on the streets or not engaged in the wider community, it is because of relationship breakdowns within their environment. When this happens, they get drawn in elsewhere, to find a sense of belonging.”

Aimee added that it is difficult to say categorically that the reduction in youth services has directly caused a rise in violent crime. But what IS clear is that the services, spaces and trusted adults that were around a decade ago, to support those most at risk in our communities, are no longer there.

“A generation of young people have been robbed of the safety net of youth centres. It’s no surprise there’s been an increase in unemployment, mental health problems and gang-related activity. The short-sighted closing of youth centres will be felt for years to come — with some young people paying the ultimate price.”

“Youth services exist to provide a sense of belonging, a safe space and the opportunity for young people to enjoy being young,” she explained. “Services with youth workers allow young people to develop a relationship with a trusted adult outside their family.

“And that provides a vital opportunity for prevention and intervention — on issues such as youth crime, mental health support, loneliness and social isolation.”
“Without drastic action to protect funding and significantly re-invest in youth services, we are condemning young people to become a lonely, lost generation — with nowhere to turn.”
The YMCA report also found that nine out of ten youth workers say cuts are impacting their work, while more than four in five feel uncertain about the future of youth services.

“In addition to youth centres, a lot of youth services used to focus on finding young people out on the streets and engaging with them in a way that their school or family were unable to,” she added.

“Sadly, there is no funding available for that any more, meaning that if young people fall into the wrong group, they are unfortunately likely to stay there.”
The decimation of youth services over the past decade is all too evident in Vauxhall, where several youth centres and services — such as Epsom Street (Epsy), Lee Jones Centre and the VNC — have either closed down or can no longer afford to offer youth services as a result of cuts.
Pauline Connolly, chief executive of the VNC, who managed the centre’s former youth club for children and teenagers up to the age of 16, argues that Vauxhall is often shunned by the city council, as a result of it being joined with Melrose to form the Kirkdale Ward.

“The problem is that when you ask what money goes into Vauxhall, the council completely ignore us — because they say it is going into Kirkdale.” Referring to the council’s decision to join Vauxhall with Melrose in 2001, she adds: “We’ve lost our identity.”

Connolly has strongly opposed the move previously, arguing it prevents an appropriate dividend between the two areas. As a result, activity in the limited youth provisions in Vauxhall are mostly self-funded, but Pauline has campaigned for more funding to no avail.

“Many years ago there was a youth club in every parish,” she continued. “You need to have access, you need that ongoing communication. Kids need to know they have got a stake in the area. They need to know someone is listening to them and that they are taken seriously.
“We used to have Epsom Street, now that was always a play centre — that’s what it was built for — and the workers in there were really good. A couple of nights they would have the older kids in and they had their ear to the ground.

“They knew when something was going on, or if there were any tensions, or if something was going to happen. The lads would run into there, if they needed any help. It became a focal point for the area.”

Young people suffer when youth services collapse, leaving them, as Pauline says, under the impression that nobody is listening. And as a result of these feelings of disillusion and resentment, young people may turn to crime — or can easily be manipulated by criminals to do their dirty work.

Figures released from the Youth Justice Board and Ministry of Justice seem to suggest this could be the case in Liverpool, where the first time entrant rate for young offenders is 329, compared to an average of 248 across England and Wales. While the reoffending rate in Liverpool among youngsters is 46.5% against a national average of 40.9%.

Merseyside Police has endured cuts of £110million since 2010, which helps explain why crime rates for young people in Liverpool are so much higher than other areas of the country. In the last 10 years, the size of the force has reduced by a quarter, which means 1,120 fewer police officers now patrol the streets. And that prevents early intervention with youngsters committing crimes.
One organisation filling the void for youth clubs in the area — and hoping to combat youth crime — is Inside Connections, which trains young offenders and those vulnerable and susceptible to committing crimes. By using ex-convicts to provide peer on peer support, Development Advisor Stephen Farrelly believes it earns the respect of young people.

“With the likes of youth clubs, there would be someone of authority who the kids would listen to,” he explains. “Someone who had earned respect over the years.

“Everyone had been through the youth club, whether it was older brothers and sisters, maybe a mother or father, they had all been through it at some stage, so the respect was there.
“Because of who we are, we have got some peer on peer influence over these kids — not because we have necessarily been there and done it, but we have paid for what we have done. So they are actually listening to us. Like with youth clubs, there’s a little bit of respect there. It’s about changing their mindset.”

Rachael Willoughby, Director of Education and Employment at Inside Connections, agrees that the lack of youth clubs in the area is having a detrimental effect on young people and could lead them down the wrong path.

“That focal point of the community has gone,” she said. “Even if you had a row with your mam, you had somewhere to go. But now you have a row, the first people you walk into are these groups of young people who goad each other and the pressures that come with the youth of today — social media, peer pressure, and the constant watching. There’s no escape from it.

“If young people have got nothing else to do, they tend to congregate — and those congregations fuel behaviours that may previously have not been undertaken. Rightly or wrongly, it may not always lead to criminal activity, but it leads to the assumption of criminal activity.

“That assumption then leads to a self-fulfilling prophecy. They will think if they are already guilty as charged, without any kind of initiation or instigation on their part, then let’s do it anyway.”
Rachael added that austerity is amplifying the issue of youth crime, by taking away the crucial support services that provide young people with positive role models.

“Traditionally, people who are more senior in the criminal lines will target young people from poorer areas because they are easy targets. There’s a shortage of income coming into their households, so there is a plentiful supply of these young people who are vulnerable in their own way.
“And they probably wouldn’t even see themselves as vulnerable,” she adds.

“They are vulnerable because they have limited education, limited strong support networks. I don’t mean that they have nobody, I mean that maybe there’s not that strong father figure, often a positive male role model in the household, to do what fathers did traditionally, which was to lay down the law.”

Youth crime is a symptom of disadvantaged areas, of which Liverpool has many. Vauxhall and Kirkdale sit in the top 1% of the most deprived areas in the country, according to data from the English Indices of Deprivation. With the area’s youth services already at breaking point, can Vauxhall and its young people survive another five years of Tory cuts — and at what cost?