Will all be well?

Leslie Griffiths on the ongoing crisis in funding support for UK children’s and youth services

'30,000 children in gangs' splashed the headline in The Times on Monday. Children are aged between 10 and 15, with children’s commissioner Anne Longfield commenting that “criminals are preying on young people by ‘taking the place of society.’” Just weigh up those words. The social structures within which so many of our children are growing up are provided by drug dealers and gangsters, operating at what she chillingly described as a “systematic and well-rehearsed business model.”

With my encouragement, one young man – a victim of a gang attack that saw his best friend murdered – has written about his early life. A particular tale he tells is horrific.

He and his friend, aged only 8 at that time, were kicking a ball around in a piece of parkland when they were surprised by two gangs fighting each other with baseball bats and broken bottles. In his own words: “Myself and my friend were safely hidden in a bush, afraid to come out of our enclosure. Right in front of our eyes, two teens had cornered one of the rival gang members. Surrounding him they struck him around the head with a glass bottle. He collapsed to the ground blood leaking from his head. He began foaming at the mouth. We were petrified. Two days later, news came that this individual had lost his life. I was 8 years old and I had witnessed my first murder.”

These are the realities within which our children and young people, in both cities and rural areas, are growing up. On the verge of my own adult life I could echo Van Morrison’s Brand New Day; in my middle years I sang along with D:Ream, and my own beloved Labour Party, that “Things can only get better.” But now, it’s much more the Foo Fighters song The Line which, as singer Dave Grohl puts it is “a search for hope in this day and age where you feel as if you’re fighting for your life with every passing moment and everything is on the line.”

That’s how I feel as I look at the way we provide for our young people. I know the government will tell us how much money it has committed to work with young people. And Ministers are bound to remind us that responsibility for distributing that money rests with local authorities. But nobody is unaware of the strains on council spending power, with the desperate need to make provision for adult social care, homelessness prevention and so much else.

We cannot wonder therefore, that financial support for children and young people’s services has taken a massive hit since 2010 – falling from £10bn to £7.6bn, with a further decrease of £2bn expected over the next two years. These figures can differ from one account to another but no one can doubt the general direction of travel. And let’s also remind ourselves that the resources in question are intended to deliver children’s centres, targeted youth and family support, safeguarding and child protection, and children in care.

Those representing the NHS, social care, education and defence are all raising their voices and demanding substantial injections of cash, but we must not allow the needs of young people to be lost in the clamour. Otherwise, the current gloomy picture can only get worse.

As President of the Boys’ Brigade, I’ll be spending a significant part of my summer break with young men and women from around the UK and the Republic of Ireland. I’ll be offering my thoughts about leadership to hundreds of people gathered for training at our regional centres. The devolved governments are more than happy to inject some core funding and programme support into not only our work but that of other youth organisations too. But I wish there was some similar targeted support in England.

I also wish that, along with Ed Sheeran, I could sing “bibia be ye ye” – all will be well. Alas, it looks much more like it’s going to be a Hard Day’s Night.

Lord Leslie Griffiths of Burry Port is Shadow DCMS Minister in the House of Lords

Published 26th June 2018

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