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A call to back youth

29th February 2024 by Jamie Masraff, Chief Executive, OnSide

It’s tough to be a young person in the UK right now. The aftermath of covid, rising child poverty, cost-of-living crisis, and record levels of mental ill health all make it harder for this generation than almost any in living memory. We see headline after headline documenting how hard life is for our young people. It’s clearly something the public cares about, as we saw from the reaction to John Roberts, AO founder and former OnSide Trustee speaking on BBC Breakfast about the power of youth centres and youth work.

One thing we know makes a difference to young lives is ensuring they are heard, feel safe, and supported by trusted adults. This is what youth work and youth centres deliver, so it’s outrageous to hear stats shared by the YMCA that the number of youth centres in England has dropped by more than 53% since 2011 (from 917 to 427), and youth work roles have fallen by 35% since 2012-13. If people heard that almost 500 communities had entirely lost any other public service, there would be uproar. But because the essential nature of youth centres and youth work is not widely understood (they are certainly valued by those that have directly benefited but too often they lack the loudest voices), this has passed largely unnoticed

This combination of rising challenges facing young people and disappearing support systems means it has never been more necessary for every corner of society to come together to back young people, particularly this crucial year with an election on the horizon.

We are stronger and can have a greater impact when we collaborate, and I’m proud that OnSide is part of the Back Youth Alliance; a coalition of youth charities using their collective voices to campaign for greater support for young people and the youth sector. To make this happen, we have agreed on shared asks of all parties:

  1. Provide the young people in most need with a named youth worker or volunteer support to help them navigate complicated local services and access opportunities in the time they spend outside of school – ensuring this is made available in a wide range of settings and places.
  2. Ensure all young people are supported to access positive activities outside of school like youth clubs, holiday clubs and trips away from home and help address barriers like family income or additional needs all year round.
  3. Enable young people and youth-led organisations to shape the design and delivery of policies and services that impact them.

As the election ramps up, you can play your part in ensuring young people are a priority for the next government – ask parties about what they’re doing to support young people when they’re canvassing, speak up on the importance of your local council’s youth services. Be an advocate for young people whose voices are so often overlooked. It’s a time of unprecedented challenges for young people, we need to back our youth to ensure they have the resources, opportunities, and support they need to thrive.