Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.
School will soon be out – but for many children and young people the holidays have a lot less in store, and for many parents a period of anxiety is looming. Last year, hundreds of thousands of young people were affected by the dramatic cuts in youth services, which bit as the summer holidays were approaching. The closures of childcare services and youth centres were the most visible examples, with the latter receiving particular attention in the aftermath of the August riots. The Guardian video of a Haringey teenager lamenting youth club closures and warning ‘There’ll be riots’ seemed eerily prophetic. One year on, the sector is still in turmoil. How are services adapting to cuts and what are the most serious effects?
Jo, an early years worker from inner London*, is eager to explain the severe impact of playscheme closures in the area. Pointing out that children from poorer families often live in cramped housing and have much fewer opportunities for play, she says: ‘Without playschemes and other activities over the holidays, inner city children miss out on a lot of important experiences – trips to the seaside, creative and messy play, interacting with their peers in a less formal environment, running, jumping, dancing.’ She points to the key role of playschemes in emotional well-being and in identifying special educational needs before formal schooling starts, as well as the links made between a lack of play opportunities and a rise in ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder)-type difficulties.
With the government’s austerity budgeting, the universal childcare to which parents are entitled – and which is so important to low-income families – is being dismantled. A report from the Daycare Trust last year showed 62 per cent of local authorities had been forced to cut childcare and playscheme funding, and 50 per cent were offering a decreased level of childcare provision. There has also been a sharp reduction in the number of places, which means three and four year olds who are entitled to 15 hours a week of free early learning education may not find a nursery, centre or playscheme to deliver it.
The situation is likely to get worse in the next few years as the bulk of the cuts are yet to come. The ‘big society’, rather than stepping in to fill the gap, is proving instead to be equally vulnerable to funding crises. As Jo explains, ‘There isn’t money in the voluntary sector to fill the gap – there’s less grants and trust money to apply for and greater competition.’
The tough financial choices facing parents have hit disadvantaged families harder too. The average cost of a week’s childcare increased to £96.85 in England last year, up from £58.45 ten years before. Some areas have seen a 50 per cent hike in just one year. For poor families, says Jo, turning to private childcare ‘just isn’t an option in the first place . . . Parents are forced to stay at home to look after their child with all of the complications, headaches and vilification that comes with claiming benefits.’ The result? ‘Probably a widening in the achievement gap between children from different economic backgrounds. We’re likely to see an increase in children deemed to be living in poverty, children growing up in the city with increasingly challenging home lives as families are hit from various directions.’
For workers, the cuts mean increasingly precarious employment. Often employed on casual contracts and paid hourly, early years workers, the vast majority of whom are female, are feeling the pitfalls of casual employment – no sick pay, job insecurity – much more keenly. Against this background, organising in opposition becomes problematic, although small‑scale resistance is happening, with staff refusing the demand to do ‘more for less’ as employers try to avoid paying staff for all the time they put in.
Youth centre closures
The closure of youth centres has received more attention, particularly when union resistance spearheaded by Unite took place last year. In Oxfordshire, where the Conservative local authority’s cuts were some of the most dramatic in the country, youth workers went on strike and protested outside David Cameron’s constituency offices in Witney. The campaign eventually lost momentum, however. ‘They basically ignored us. People felt drained and exhausted after the whole affair,’ says the Unite community and youth workers chair David Ricketts.
Countrywide, 3,000 youth service workers have lost their jobs so far and, in the ‘commissioning’ atmosphere whereby grants are attached to performance targets, universal services such as youth centres have come off worse from spending cuts. Last year 20 per cent of centres closed their doors, and although some have tentatively reopened with volunteers, rafts of others have since had to close too – the most recent being in West Sussex and Somerset. Many local authorities are now targeting their reduced funds at early intervention ‘hubs’, designed to provide support for young people facing problems with crime, truancy, pregnancy or drugs. In this mindset youth clubs as a community resource, a place where young people can gain confidence, experience citizenship and explore non-academic talents, are deemed unnecessary.
This has the most impact on teenagers who could get into trouble, even if they’re not already. According to Bill, an experienced youth worker in the south east*, the non-structured environment of a youth club is especially important for those for whom structured and organised activities don’t appeal, even where they are available. ‘It’s precisely their informality that harder-to-reach young people respond to, and that’s why open youth centres are so often frequented by those people. Youth centres offer a space for a group to operate out of, long-term community relationships, a social network and continuity. If the local youth centre closes, where can a teenager in care hang out with their friends? It’s not the same for the middle classes.’ They are the polar opposite of the flagship Conservative youth policy of national citizen service for 16 year olds, entering its second year this summer, which David Cameron enticingly described as ‘non-military national service’.
The community-wide effect of losing these facilities is as hard to measure as their benefits, but experts have hit the headlines by warning of an increase in gang-related crime and serious impacts on the safety of young people in urban areas. In many isolated rural areas, teenagers are simply left with nothing to do.
Volunteers and charities
So why can’t volunteers and charities step in to protect services? After all, youth work started in the charity sector. In the most part, according to Bill, independent youth centres are only viable with local authority support: ‘You could run something without local authority funding but it would be too expensive for many young people.’ Another factor is who would deliver the services. ‘Some areas have a strong voluntary sector who could do it, others don’t … In some cases, there isn’t money locally to afford it, and if you put nothing in new projects can’t get off the ground.’
This doesn’t mean that people are not demonstrating plenty of passion and creativity to try to enable the sector to weather the storm. A good example of this can be found in Buckinghamshire, where the council pulled funding from 27 youth centres and around 100 youth workers were made redundant. Some of the centres have since reopened with a volunteer workforce. Working with them is a new social enterprise, which aims to reinvigorate clubs with activities as well as a committed group of managers.
Rafe’s Place is named after Rafe Chiles, who died in 2004 aged just 23 but was a huge inspiration in the area for his work organising music nights and other events for young people. It has found a niche that involves local students at Buckinghamshire New University who want work experience managing and running youth activities at clubs in a partnership that focuses on ‘two problems [becoming] resources for each other’. Once it becomes established, the group hopes the model can be replicated in other areas. One of its directors, Georgia Romeril, describes the need to engage young people in her local area of Amersham: ‘They need something they’re interested in and that inspires them. When the youth clubs closed they literally had nowhere to go, and young people get so much stick around here.’
The idea was conceived more than two years ago, before the cuts began to bite, with the aim of running projects that really appeal to teenagers, including street art, DJ lessons, music production and a summer community festival. Since the funding for youth centres was slashed, their work has taken on a new importance, with clubs approaching them to help run activities they can no longer afford.
While Rafe’s Place is an example of a new approach going from strength to strength, mainly thanks to the relentless commitment of the team, it is designed as a parallel project to youth centres and is not involved in running them itself. The inherent problems of expecting a professional and funded service to be run by volunteers and charities remain. Youth clubs in the county are appealing for more volunteers. Georgia Romeril is well aware of the shortfall as her day job involves volunteer recruitment in the charity sector. ‘You can’t necessarily just run on volunteers because people are struggling themselves and just don’t have the time in their day. Everyday volunteers are hard to come by and hard to keep.’
The same sentiment was expressed strongly in Norfolk after a BBC article on the ‘big society’ and youth clubs ended on a cautiously positive note, suggesting that although precarious, youth clubs in the area were being kept going by the passion and commitment of local people. A youth worker featured in the article, who had set up a charity to continue services after being made redundant, responded indignantly. She stated that ‘funding was hard to come by’ and that ‘qualified youth workers are essential to youth centres due to the specific issues young people face and volunteers are not trained to deal with these’. In seeking training for volunteers, she said they had received ‘no support’.
Worse to come
If funding is hard to come by now, it’s going to get worse over the next few years. The National Children’s Bureau warns that children’s and young people’s charities in England face funding cuts over the next five years that will exceed those faced by the voluntary sector as a whole. By 2016, funding is expected to be £400 million down on 2011 levels.
Resistance to the closures of both early years services such as nurseries and youth centres has continued with local campaigns to save certain projects, such as Heatham House in Richmond and Roundabout Nursery in Hackney. One youth worker suggested that whether organising against closures had any effect or not depended on the local authority – while the scattered re-opening of some clubs shows councils being prepared to be responsive, others stick resolutely to their slash-and-burn agendas.
Overall, the attack on youth centres has left patchy provision around the country. And like so many of the public sector cuts, it is economically disadvantaged young people who are most likely to feel the effects.
*Some names have been changed.
Illustration by Cressida Knapp.
The police spend little of their time making arrests, and most crimes are not solved, writes Alex Vitale – their real purpose is social control
Many important things happened on conference floor, reports Alex Nunns – but you wouldn’t know it from reading the newspapers
Radhika Desai says Capital by Karl Marx is still an essential read on the 150th anniversary of its publication
The Spanish state is seizing ballot papers and raiding meetings, write Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte – but it is being met with united resistance
The crunch executive meeting ahead of Labour conference agreed some welcome changes, writes Michael Calderbank, but there is still much further to go
Dipesh Pandya speaks to documentary film-maker Sanjay Kak, who for 30 years has been working outside the mainstream to tell a story rooted in the struggles of those excluded by India’s militarism and its narrative of neoliberal growth
Jeremy Gilbert on how radical Labour politics can be inspired by the utopianism of the counterculture
Disasters have unequal impacts – it's the poor and marginalised who suffer most. David Harvey writes on Hurricane Harvey
#MeToo is necessary – but I’m sick of having to prove my humanity
Women are expected to reveal personal trauma to be taken seriously, writes Eleanor Penny
Universal credit isn’t about saving money – it’s about disciplining unemployed people
The scheme has cost a fortune and done nothing but cause suffering. So why does it exist at all? Tom Walker digs into universal credit’s origins in Tory ideology
Meet the digital feminists
We're building new online tools to create a new feminist community and tackle sexism wherever we find it, writes Franziska Grobke
The Marikana women’s fight for justice, five years on
Marienna Pope-Weidemann meets Sikhala Sonke, a grassroots social justice group led by the women of Marikana
Forget ‘Columbus Day’ – this is the Day of Indigenous Resistance
By Leyli Horna, Marcela Terán and Sebastián Ordonez for Wretched of the Earth
Uber and the corporate capture of e-petitions
Steve Andrews looks at a profit-making petition platform's questionable relationship with the cab company
You might be a centrist if…
What does 'centrist' mean? Tom Walker identifies the key markers to help you spot centrism in the wild
Black Journalism Fund Open Editorial Meeting in Leeds
Friday 13th October, 5pm to 7pm, meeting inside the Laidlaw Library, Leeds University
This leadership contest can transform Scottish Labour
Martyn Cook argues that with a new left-wing leader the Scottish Labour Party can make a comeback
Review: No Is Not Enough
Samir Dathi reviews No Is Not Enough: Defeating the New Shock Politics, by Naomi Klein
Building Corbyn’s Labour from the ground up: How ‘the left’ won in Hackney South
Heather Mendick has gone from phone-banker at Corbyn for Leader to Hackney Momentum organiser to secretary of her local party. Here, she shares her top tips on transforming Labour from the bottom up
Five things to know about the independence movement in Catalonia
James O'Nions looks at the underlying dynamics of the Catalan independence movement
‘This building will be a library!’ From referendum to general strike in Catalonia
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte report from the Catalan general strike, as the movements prepare to build a new republic
Chlorine chickens are just the start: Liam Fox’s Brexit trade free-for-all
A hard-right free marketer is now in charge of our trade policy. We urgently need to develop an alternative vision, writes Nick Dearden
There is no ‘cult of Corbyn’ – this is a movement preparing for power
The pundits still don’t understand that Labour’s new energy is about ‘we’ not ‘me’, writes Hilary Wainwright
Debt relief for the hurricane-hit islands is the least we should do
As the devastation from recent hurricanes in the Caribbean becomes clearer, the calls for debt relief for affected countries grow stronger, writes Tim Jones
‘Your credit score is not sufficient to enter this location’: the risks of the ‘smart city’
Jathan Sadowski explains techno-political trends of exclusion and enforcement in our cities, and how to overcome this new type of digital oppression
Why I’m standing with pregnant women and resisting NHS passport checks
Dr Joanna Dobbin says the government is making migrant women afraid to seek healthcare, increasing their chances of complications or even death
‘Committees in Defence of the Referendum’: update from Catalonia
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte on developments as the Catalan people resist the Spanish state's crackdown on their independence referendum
The rights and safety of LGBTQ+ people are not guaranteed – we must continue to fight for them
Kennedy Walker looks at the growth in hate attacks at a time when the Tory government is being propped up by homophobes
Naomi Klein: the Corbyn movement is part of a global phenomenon
What radical writer Naomi Klein said in her guest speech to Labour Party conference
Waiting for the future to begin: refugees’ everyday lives in Greece
Solidarity volunteer Karolina Partyga on what she has learned from refugees in Thessaloniki
Don’t let Uber take you for a ride
Uber is no friend of passengers or workers, writes Lewis Norton – the firm has put riders at risk and exploited its drivers
Acid Corbynism’s next steps: building a socialist dance culture
Matt Phull and Will Stronge share more thoughts about the postcapitalist potential of the Acid Corbynist project
Flooding the cradle of civilisation: A 12,000 year old town in Kurdistan battles for survival
It’s one of the oldest continually inhabited places on earth, but a new dam has put Hasankeyf under threat, write Eliza Egret and Tom Anderson
New model activism: Putting Labour in office and the people in power
Hilary Wainwright examines how the ‘new politics’ needs to be about both winning electoral power and building transformative power
What is ‘free movement plus’?
A new report proposes an approach that can push back against the tide of anti-immigrant sentiment. Luke Cooper explains
The World Transformed: Red Pepper’s pick of the festival
Red Pepper is proud to be part of organising The World Transformed, in Brighton from 23-26 September. Here are our highlights from the programme
Working class theatre: Save Our Steel takes the stage
A new play inspired by Port Talbot’s ‘Save Our Steel’ campaign asks questions about the working class leaders of today. Adam Johannes talks to co-director Rhiannon White about the project, the people and the politics behind it
The dawn of commons politics
As supporters of the new 'commons politics' win office in a variety of European cities, Stacco Troncoso and Ann Marie Utratel chart where this movement came from – and where it may be going