Young people, youth organisations and charities joined politicians at the Labour Party Conference for the OnSide Youth Zones fringe event #RallyForYouth.
Hosted by the charity, alongside Croydon Central MP Sarah Jones, there were passionate speeches from many in attendance, including many of OnSide’s young ambassadors, about the growing problem of lack of investment in youth services.
Sarah Jones MP welcomed those present, saying: “It’s really tough being young, we are not giving young people the support that they need.
“Cuts to youth services, cuts to mental health support, bad housing, poverty, austerity – they all make life harder for young people.
“We are all here today to talk about what we can do to fix some of their problems because we owe it to them.”
Paula Rodrigues then opened the rally with her spoken word poem about growing up as a young person and the stereotypes and issues that go with it. It also includes an impassioned speech about her belief in Youth Zones, having been a part of the Unitas Youth Zone Development Group for four years.
MPs Vicky Foxcroft, David Lammy and Diane Abbott also spoke about how political parties must do more to engage with young people in finding out what is needed to raise their aspirations and opportunities.
David Lammy MP said: “This issue is so important, I put it above politics. We should be working towards a place where all political parties understand that this is a necessity.”
Amongst the OnSide ambassadors to speak was 19-year-old Leah Eastwood-Webb.
Leah joined OnSide’s Ambassadors for London group four years ago when she was having many personal struggles.
She told the audience, which consisted of over 100 young people, youth workers, third sector employees and politicians: “When I joined OnSide I was really struggling at school, I was struggling to find a focus, I was on the SEN spectrum and I got lost in the system.
“I was picked up by one of the OnSide outreach workers and he helped me get my focus.
“I eventually became an intern for OnSide and now I’m working at the first-ever Youth Zone in London, Future in Barking and Dagenham. OnSide has truly saved my life.”
As well as other young people in the audience, the rally also heard from NUS UK president Zamzam Ibrahim, British Youth Council Chair Amanda Chetwynd-Cowieson, Brighton Youth Centre CEO Mike Roe, Barnardo’s director Adam Pemberton, Chair of Young Labour Miriam Mirwitch and National Youth Agency Youth CEO Leigh Middleton.
Leigh Middleton said: “In the last 10 years we’ve lost £1bn of public money going into young people and youth services. We’ve lost 14,000 youth work posts across the country and we reckon about 75% of those we have don’t have the correct qualifications and training you’d expect them to have to support young people.
“OnSide buck that trend, they’re working with us to train their staff in their Youth Zones to make sure they can provide the best possible service.”