Deep and painful Tory cuts to our police and youth services are increasing the risk of young people becoming victims of crime. Without security and support, they may even be tempted – or coerced – into crime themselves. Too many of us who are teachers see it happen to our own students, often with a devastating impact on both themselves and their families.
Against this challenge, the Mayor’s Fund for London offers hope in helping to address the needs of some of our most at-risk young people. It helps in so many ways: tackling food insecurity, building skills and aspiration, giving access to role models and mentors, and engaging with employers to help young people to break into London’s incredibly competitive jobs market. It also listens and responds directly to the needs of the young people who use it, with 14 Youth Board members involved in shaping and directing its services. I was delighted to see that that this week Mayor Sadiq Khan announced significant further investment in the Fund, and especially in initiatives aimed at reducing violent crime.
Youth services are a powerful force for good. Our own Legacy Youth Zone here in Croydon is testament to that, and it’s great that our local Labour council have helped create this community treasure even in these austerity-hit times. But the overall picture, against a backdrop of a Conservative government that has continually failed to provide adequate funding for youth services, is bleak: local authorities across London have seen the closure of over 80 youth centres since 2011.
Youth services invest in young people’s talent. They can be considered as a ‘spend to save’ strategy – when it costs over £75,000 per year to keep someone in a young offenders’ unit, it’s clear that there’s a really strong case to be made for investing in services that help prevent a young person taking a wrong turn that can blight the rest of their life.
This is why I’m calling on the Mayor to go even further, and, if re-elected, to pledge to see a doubling of the size of the Mayor’s Fund for young people during his next term of office. And I am calling on the employers who already take part in the Fund’s programmes to match that increase, and for even more employers to come on board. If we are really serious about investing in our young people, we must make this a priority.
For far too long some of our most vulnerable young people have borne the brunt of cuts, and the impact is plain to see – parents and teachers see it every day. It’s time to step-change our efforts to give young people more of the support they need.