The Liberal Democrat fighting to protect youth services

Against the backdrop of austerity, one activist is pushing the Liberal Democrats to protect youth services.

It’s not often you hear someone in politics say they don’t care who wins the votes, so long as young people engage. Political debates have been so skewed against young people though, that partisan politics can be set aside if it means fighting for better support for young people.

Mathew Hulbert is the Chair of Liberal Democrats Friends of Youth Services and is determined to see greater funding for young people’s services.

“It shouldn’t be the case, of course, but the cynic in me thinks one of the reasons why youth services were cut and other things were cut for young people was because up until this election they’ve not been a big voting block,” Mathew says. “Obviously, you can’t vote until you’re 18 at the moment-though the voting age should be reduced to 16-but even those who are 18 haven’t tended to vote in large numbers. Until young people become a significant voting block at elections then I’m afraid politicians when they have cuts to make will make the cuts in things that are aimed at young people.”

Until young people become a significant voting block at elections then I’m afraid politicians when they have cuts to make will make the cuts in things that are aimed at young people.

Up until 2017, youth turnout at elections had fallen significantly. It was 60% in the early 1990s but then averaged at 40% between 2001–2010. In the age of austerity, young people have seen tuition fees rise, the Education Maintenance Allowance scrapped, child poverty continue to rise and cuts to youth services. In 2016 Unison found that £387m has been cut from youth services by local authorities in the last six years with further cuts still expected. It’s this assault on services for young people that saw Mathew set up Lib Dems Friends of Youth Services.

“We could see the direction youth services were going in, in terms of being either cut back or axed totally by local authorities up and down the country who in turn, rightly or wrongly, blame central government. As a small group, we don’t have statutory powers, we don’t have much of a budget but what we do have is the ability to meet fairly regularly with Lib Dem parliamentarians.”

That contact is vital. The Liberal Democrats are the fourth largest party in the House of Commons and they have a significant presence in the House of Lords. While attention is so often focused on the two largest parties, those in the middle can push for amendments and work across party lines to try to bring change.

Mathew has reaped some success already. At the 2015 Liberal Democrat conference he pushed for the party to commit to offering statutory funding for youth services. This would guarantee their funding. It passed unanimously.

“I’m a big believer that local authorities should have all the autonomy,” they can,” says Mathew “but some services should have statutory funding. Youth services should be one of those. Councils would have to find the money for them; they’d have no option.

“If you make something a statutory service the ideal would be if we had a government which cared about these matters – and I’d argue that at the moment we don’t – that the money would come after that. The funding would be made available from central government to local authorities.”

Councils would have to find the money for them; they’d have no option.

As a former councillor, Mathew knows well the impact statutory funding would have on a local level. There would be no more excuses but a basic guarantee of funding. Mathew argues that spending more now saves money in the long run. Young services can give young people the support they need, which can prevent future trips to the NHS, stop a rise in drinking and in some cases, can help young people avoid being tangled in the criminal justice system.

“These aren’t victimless cuts. It’s young people who are hurt by these cuts because they no longer have somewhere to turn to. It’s about young people who often feel they have nowhere else to turn, who feel they can turn to their local council youth worker. When these provisions go and when these very talented professionals are no longer employed then that doesn’t change the fact that there are still these vulnerable young people who need somewhere to turn.”

These aren’t victimless cuts. It’s young people who are hurt by these cuts because they no longer

When watching MPs and party leaders it’s easy to feel that party point scoring wins the day, but often forgotten are the activists at grassroots level trying to get attention and fight for better support. The cuts to young people’s services may not be stopped under this Government, but some will continue to keep fighting.


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