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Youth Policy

5 pm

Simon Hughes (North Southwark and Bermondsey) (LD): I am grateful for the opportunity to have this short debate, and I welcome the Minister to her new responsibilities. I hope that she enjoys her new job.

Will you allow me 30 seconds of indulgence, Mr. O'Hara? It would be odd to start a debate about the future for our young people without sharing the excitement that many of us feel at the announcement that we have won the bid for the 2012 Olympic games. I say to the Minister—and therefore to the Government—that all of us can only sincerely congratulate the Prime Minister, the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport and the Minister for Sport and Tourism.

I also add without reservation my congratulations to the Mayor of London. I wish that I had been doing that job at this time, but one cannot win all the prizes. I also congratulate Seb Coe, Craig Reedie and their teams. It has been a really encouraging day for the country as a whole, but for young people especially. I was delighted to be in Trafalgar square at a quarter to 1 with many, many others.

I have called this debate on this momentous day, knowing that—hopefully, within days—we shall get the Government Green Paper on the future of youth services. I shall press the Minister on that in a second or two. I want to make sure that at the beginning of this new Parliament the case for a really well resourced, developed, growing youth service is put again. That would serve England well. A good youth service with more qualified, competent and good youth workers can do phenomenal good for young people in their development from children into adults.

From all my political and pre-political experience, I am clear that such things are as important for fit, healthy and safe communities as are good homes and schools. Together with sport, if youth services can be well developed we shall have a much happier and healthier society.

I am patron of various constituency organisations, as are other hon. Members in their patches, but my only formal interest is that I am one of the parliamentary vice-chairs of the Commonwealth Youth Exchange council, which does good work that it wants to expand—with, I hope, a bit of encouragement from the Foreign Office. I put that on record, because the bid keeps going in.

I shall make a couple of general remarks, given the comments from the press and other sources in recent weeks. There is a regular clamour, particularly in much of the local and tabloid press, about how young people do not have respect and are not what they used to be. Of course, a minority behaves badly and that behaviour is rightly to be condemned, as are the failures of their families, which, in many cases, are equally responsible.

Young people often say that if they are given respect, they will reciprocate—and they deserve that presumption. The youth service deserves that respect too, because there is some really good work and practice in every single local authority up and down the country. If we can develop the youth service in the statutory and voluntary sectors—sometimes through faith groups,
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sometimes through other organisations; uniformed and non-uniformed, traditional and modern—there will be much less bad and antisocial behaviour from that age group in our cities, towns and villages. Bluntly, we would probably end up with far fewer calls for an end to hoods in shopping centres, including at the Elephant and Castle in my own constituency, just over the bridge.

If we work on this agenda well, I am sure that young people will respond well, get less of a bad press and begin to get out of that cycle of criticism. I hope that collectively in this Parliament we will stand up for young people and not run them down, and that the Minister will see that as one of the items on her agenda.

I shall give a few undisputed facts. The last figure that I had was that there are about 4.3 million youngsters between the ages of 13 and 19 in England. In ball-park figures, local education authorities spend between £300 million and £400 million on youth services in England, from core funding, as it were; I think that that is the right figure. Some £100 million comes from other funding, and some money—about a quarter of that: £25 million—is given to the voluntary sector. Those are the ball-park figures; we are talking about £500 million a year. About a quarter of young people of the relevant age range are in contact with formal youth services. About half that group are involved intensively, the other half less frequently.

Of the 8,000 members of staff, about half are full-time, and the other half are the equivalent of full-time. There are also 16,000 or 17,000 who do what used to be called part-time hours and who are now called support workers. The latest statistic suggests, although averages are always misleading, that there is roughly one youth worker for every 500 young people up and down the country. The Minister will know, however, that the amount spent locally varies hugely. I do not criticise that or argue that a similar amount should be spent, because local variation sometimes results in better value for money, but the amount does vary significantly.

At the bottom end of the range for that age group, the average amount is £71 a head, the lowest is as little as £40 a head, and the largest goes up to £200 a head. A question that people always ask is why there are such different priorities in different parts of the country, many of which are not hugely different from each other. Some regions are much lower spenders than others. The two midlands regions, the south, the south-west and the eastern regions spend less, while London, the north-west, the north-east and Yorkshire and Humberside spend more. My borough, which my colleagues have run for three years, spends about £141 per young person on its youth services. Inner London tends to spend more than many other local authorities elsewhere in the country.

When I first came to Southwark to settle permanently after college, I was a youth leader with the Greenhouse trust in Camberwell in my spare time. The trust still exists, and I shall talk about it in a moment. I learned about the level of need, which I shall illustrate briefly, and about the continuing need for support in order to do the work that everyone accepts needs to be done.

I have five figures, which I know have been given to the Minister, so there is no dispute; I merely place them on the record so that we can agree about the basis of the need. More than one in 10 of the children—just under
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6,000—have parents who are never at work, are long-term unemployed, or have never worked. That is twice the national average. Just under 25,000 dependent children, which is half of all Southwark children, are living in overcrowded accommodation, and have all the more need to get out and do stimulating things such as exercise away from home. That is one in two and is much greater than the national average, which is not much more than one in 10.

Almost half of dependent children—some 23,000—are in one-parent families, which is double the national average. In addition, some 3 per cent.—some 1,500—are not in a family at all, which is three times the national average, and about 650 children are in foster care or local authority care, which is more than double the national average. Those are the special needs children.

There are also other children who do not have special criteria but who are simply young people who want to escape their parents and school and do other things. The very well respected head of youth services, Karl Murray, whom I have known over the years, and his predecessors make the same point that they have always made, which is that they want more youth workers because there is much more demand for youth work.

Some very good initiatives came out of the tragedy of Damilola Taylor's death. There is a new centre in the neighbouring constituency of the Minister of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs, the right hon.    and learned Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman). It is now used very actively, and I give all due credit to those who use it. There is also a young people's magazine project, which is what it says it is, and a detached youth work team in Nunhead.

So there is very good practice, but I shall give four examples of where parts of the system are struggling for lack of resources and support. This morning, I visited the Geoffrey Chaucer school in my constituency with XLP—a Christian youth work organisation that won the Queen's award for volunteering in, I believe, 2002, and has been going for nine years.

XLP provides counselling and support in schools and helps with arts, reading and other education. It did a presentation at the school this morning, and it was simply brilliant, engaging a raft of kids at 8.50 am. I must say that Geoffrey Chaucer school does not have a tradition of children sitting quietly in rows and listening, but they were in really good form.

We were there because I had a meeting with the school and with someone who might help it with funding because it is struggling to find funding that will continue. One of its key funders, the Church, cannot fund it as it used to, yet it has huge demands on its time. The local authority gave it a bus, which it uses two days a week on the estate. It wants to use it five days a week but does not have the resources to do so.

The Scouts in Southwark were on to me recently because there is a risk that one of the places to which they go in the Thames valley for canoeing will not be available anymore and because, in some of the voluntary community premises, they do not have places to do their scouting.

The Salmon youth centre, which is in Bermondsey, has a brilliantly planned new building and is a really good new project with which I have been involved for a
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long time. However, it is 20 per cent. short of what it needs to get back up and running. The Greenhouse Trust, at which I started my Southwark life, is struggling to expand special work with younger children with particular needs.

That is happening in a borough in which the talent is unarguable. The Minister may not know this, but last weekend the London youth games were held at Crystal palace. Not only did Southwark, for the first time, become the best inner-London borough, but it got the best result of any inner-London borough in the history of the London youth games. So the energy, talent and willingness to do well and succeed is there.

When Southwark young people are asked what they want, their answers are unsurprising. They want three things. First, they say what nearly every adult throughout the country says: "We want more things for young people to do." Secondly, they say, "We have problems with other people hanging around." Thirdly, young people say, "We have problems with crime"—being attacked, harassed, and so on. The issues are no different.

Really good youth work—from rural youth work in villages in Dorset to inner-city youth work in London—is vital as a bridge between school life and home life. It often produces role models who do things that parents and teachers can never do. Often, youth clubs are the places that young people go to in their most difficult periods.

Mr. John Leech (Manchester, Withington) (LD): My hon. Friend is probably not aware that in south Manchester the police have been instrumental in raising thousands of pounds to buy a youth bus for my constituency and those south of the Mersey. Unfortunately, the use of that bus is dependent on the availability of youth workers to staff it. Having raised all that money and provided a facility that is good for young people, and well tended when in use, the problem is having the resources available to staff those buses on a regular basis so that it is in use all the time rather than a couple of nights a week or a couple of afternoons at the weekend.

Simon Hughes : I did not know that, but I know my hon. Friend's part of Manchester. My hon. Friend the Member for Solihull (Lorely Burt) is also here. I bet that, in the west midlands and the north-west, including in the Minister's constituency in the Wirral—

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Skills (Maria Eagle) : My constituency is in Liverpool.

Simon Hughes : I beg the Minister's pardon. I was thinking of her sister's constituency.

Maria Eagle : There is a difference.

Simon Hughes : I know. Those constituencies face the same issues as does London.
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I end with my policy questions. First, when will we get the Green Paper? Will it come before the summer? It was due last September, but got deferred. It was coming before the election, but somehow did not come and everyone is waiting.

Secondly, will the Government consider having the same sort of campaign for recruitment and retention of youth workers as was successful in increasing the number of nurses and police officers some years ago when we were short of them? It would benefit us and I am sure that it would be taken up if we did it properly.

Thirdly, will the Minister confirm that it is Government policy that youth services should be available not just for those with special needs but as a universal service accessible for all young people? Youth services should not just be targeted on those who are thought to be particularly needy.

My fourth question is the most controversial and topical. It would not have been a question a month ago. Although we can understand why private owners of shopping centres such as Bluewater say that they will ban hoodies, does the Minister agree that that response is not helpful? It starts to demonise young people who are wearing something fashionable. If we said that they could not come in wearing trainers or certain sorts of jeans, it would become nonsensical. We must try to respond positively to young people's needs rather than saying that they cannot go somewhere and are not accepted.

Fifthly, will the Minister be clear that youth work is principally best outside school? I am in favour of wrap-round school provision. I chair a school governing body and we will do it in my school. However, that is a different issue. It is important that we do not just think about 8 till 6 provision but about evenings and weekends.

Lorely Burt (Solihull) (LD): On that point, I wonder whether my hon. Friend is aware of some excellent provision that is being made in my constituency, where there is an innovative scheme called teen spirit, of which hon. Members might have heard. However, the amount of funding for youth services in my constituency is very small, and I know that my hon. Friend will point out that there is equally little funding in other constituencies. Solihull was 138th out of 148 English local authorities in terms of provision in 2001. That situation has improved, but we are still near the bottom of the fourth quartile for funding. Will my hon. Friend ask the Minister to give us an assurance that the necessary funding will be forthcoming, so that we can continue to grow such excellent services for our young people?

Simon Hughes : I hope that the Minister will be very positive, although she will probably say that it is partly the responsibility of the local authority. One of the problems for all of us is that I have never known funding for the youth service to be a core local election issue. We need to do more to ensure that it is on everybody's agenda, whatever their political party, so that it is not something that the local authority can ignore. The needs of young people in Solihull are fundamentally no different from those of young people in Withington, Southwark or Liverpool.

Edward Miliband (Doncaster, North) (Lab): On the hon. Gentleman's fifth point, about the balance between
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schools and services outside school, would he agree that part of the key is to find ways of discovering what the young people themselves want? We might think that we know what young people want, but it would be far better to find innovative ways of asking them, and for that to be at the core of any youth strategy.

Simon Hughes : Absolutely. I have not yet welcomed the hon. Gentleman to Parliament, and I do so now. The next point on my list was to ask whether the Government will give encouragement and support to young people who want to set up their own youth clubs—that is, to go and ask what they want. It is a slightly different, but connected, point. A couple of years ago, I went to south Wales. There had been problems in a very poor area of the valleys, and young people said that they wanted a shelter. That was all; a shelter to hang around in. They got the wood and built the shelter, and solved half of their problems in that town.

I have three questions to go: I draw the Minister's attention to Tom Wiley's speech in which he used the mnemonic "respect" to set out what was important for a good youth service—relevance, entitlements, sustainability, participation, evidence, community, transitions. I respect him greatly—he has done hugely good work—but I am not sure that there could not have been a better version of that phrase. The basic message is, "show respect for young people". It is all about a set of things that are available to them.

Last but one: is it a principle that we will grow the youth service, its funding and its participants? That must be the right thing to do. The inevitable last question is—I expect that the Minister always has it on the list when she is given a brief—is it a possibility that at last, after 60 years, we can have a statutory youth service rather than a non-statutory one? I know that it is not the answer to everything, but if there were an obligation to provide education and services for adults, services for old people and services for young people, at least everybody's mind would be focused. I hope that we can have a very positive dialogue in this Parliament, and that it will be all to the advantage of young people. I would like to see a coalition for building support across the parties in their interests.

5.19 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Skills (Maria Eagle) : First, I congratulate the hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes) on securing the debate, which has necessitated his coming back from the celebrations in Trafalgar square. I am happy to join him in the congratulations that he was liberally spreading around at the beginning of his speech in response to the fantastic news that London is to host the 2012 Olympic games. That announcement went down as well in the House of Commons Tea Room—where I watched it, and a wonderful moment it was—as it did in Trafalgar square.

I hesitate to say that we will take the Green Paper away in order to incorporate the fact that the 2012 bid has succeeded; as the hon. Gentleman said, we have been waiting a little while for it. To put him out of his misery and answer his first question, it will be soon. He
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will not have to wait much longer. I cannot spill the beans any more than that, but he ought to realise that that is a positive thing for a Minister to say in reply to any debate.

I am particularly glad that the hon. Gentleman raised this subject. It is characteristic of him to have done so; it is well known in the House that he has an interest in this field relating back to his work before he came here. It would be wise of Ministers to listen to his opinions on this issue. I have enjoyed listening to him, and am glad that he appealed for some cross-party consensus on the issue, as that could only be a positive thing.

I assure the hon. Gentleman that we have been working together across Government to improve the life chances of children, young people and their families. It is particularly important that that work does not stop when children reach 13, and that we do not then say that we have sent them off and that they can make the rest of the way themselves. It would not be sensible policy making not to have good youth policies, which can have a direct impact on the lives of young people and on society more widely. As he said, this issue is not only about children in need, although it is important that youth service work should focus on children in need.

It is tremendously important that youth work should be more accessible to a wider range of young people, because of the impact that it can have on their lives. It can play a critical role in young people's personal and social development by helping them to aspire to the future, develop themselves, stay in good relationships, understand and appreciate our rich and diverse cultural heritage, have fun, learn how to take calculated risks, build their confidence and make informed choices, thus helping them to turn into thoughtful, mature, well-rounded, responsible and caring adults. Youth work at its best can make sure that people reach that level of development who might have had more difficulty in doing so without youth work intervention.

Good youth work can also challenge young people's perceptions, attitudes and behaviour. The hon. Gentleman mentioned several times the fact that the behaviour of some young people gets a disproportionate amount of attention. It is important that young people become a part of society, rather than see themselves as being outside it, or rebel against it to too great a degree. We want to ensure that our young people will turn into the responsible adults that we know they can be. They are the future of the country. I do not complain about the focus on behaviour, but it sometimes distorts the many good stories about how fantastic many of our young people are, and the great things that many of them do for our society and their communities.

If all young people are to fulfil the potential that we want them to, it is important that they grow up in communities in which they feel safe. The hon. Gentleman told us that young people say that feeling safe and not that they are about to be the victims of crime is as important to them as anyone else in society. That puts the debate about hoodies into context. Feeling safe and secure in one's community is a concern to people of all ages, so we need to have a proper balance on that.

The hon. Gentleman asked about making sure that there is more and better youth work, and more youth workers. He will know that the Government recognised
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that point in 2001 in their transforming youth work agenda, the intention of which was to raise the quality and quantity of youth work throughout England. That recognised that youth work had been something of a Cinderella, perhaps underfunded, service in the past. That is an important part of our policy agenda.

The hon. Gentleman referred to local authority youth services and the active and thriving voluntary and community sector, which many communities have, particularly in Southwark. I know that his authority spends a higher percentage than some on supporting local community groups and voluntary organisations. That is important. He gave some examples from his own experience and from his constituency, particularly that of the Salmon youth centre, which is a fantastic example of local initiative. It is gathering a dauntingly large sum of money in one place and is on the point of doing something incredible in what he has described as quite a deprived community—a point which I accept. That kind of service and such facilities would be well used and welcome and can only have a positive impact. We support that.

We have developed a clear specification for an excellent youth service through the publication of "Transforming Youth Work: Resourcing Excellent Youth Services". We are trying to ensure that local authorities know what translates into such services. We have provided extra resources targeted at service improvement. I am talking about an extra £11 million this year. We have also tried to ensure that management training and development are improved, to ensure that we can draw more people into youth work. As the hon. Gentleman will know, it is a rewarding and important career for those who have an interest in the field.

The hon. Gentleman asked some questions and perhaps I ought to get on to answering some of them. I have said all that I am going to about when the Green Paper will arrive. He will not have to hold his breath too much longer. He asked whether we intend to grow the youth service. There is a commitment through "Transforming Youth Work: Resourcing Excellent Youth Services", the support we are putting into enabling local authorities to understand what a good youth service is and the Ofsted inspections that are taking place. I know that his authority has not been inspected since 1995, but I suspect that it would do rather well. It will be inspected at some point before 2008.

All those things, combined with the extra resources, focus the minds of local authorities, which is where this action has to be led and implemented in a given local area, on ensuring that they can make the improvements and give this service a higher priority. The Green Paper, which is not too far in the future, will provide a further
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boost to that process. We want to stress to local authorities what they can do to show the positive impact of young people being in charge of things that are going on in their area.

The hon. Gentleman made references to places to go and things to do. We will consult on a number of issues that we think are important in reforming the delivery of services to young people. Those will include access to exciting, enjoyable activities in and out of school or college. They should enhance young people's personal, social and educational development and give them the opportunity to have the achievements that they make in those areas recognised. Another issue will be easier access to personal advice and the support that they might need to fulfil and raise their aspirations, which will include high quality and personalised careers education advice and guidance and some more targeted interventions where children need that. Better and earlier support for young people who demonstrate risk factors associated with poor school attendance, poor behaviour or poor attainment will be included, to try to ensure that people do not go off at a tangent and then find it more difficult later in life to get back to where they would have wanted to be.

There will be consultation on greater access to specialist services, and opportunities for volunteering and mentoring, which will build on the proposals in the Russell commission and the successful millennium volunteers programme, for example.

We know that young people are ready and willing to support others when they are given the chance, but they just need an opportunity. We want to ensure that young people can have more of a say in developing local support and activities. There will be some exciting proposals on that in the Green Paper. I shall be interested to hear what the hon. Gentleman has to say about those when he gets to see it. My hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster, North (Edward Miliband) mentioned the issue as well.

The youth Green Paper will launch an exciting change agenda for young people's services. It will put young people at the centre of those developments. Good youth work will also be at the heart of it. That fits in well with our entire "Every Child Matters" agenda. It applies a little further up the age range, but none the less it is an important part of the way in which services for children and young people will be transformed in every local area in this country. I hope that when the Green Paper arrives shortly, the hon. Gentleman will respond to it. I look forward to seeing what he has to say, and I hope that it will set off a debate about the future, which will be tremendously helpful in all our communities, whether it be in Liverpool, Southwark, Solihull or even Manchester.

Question put and agreed to.

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