Being Young in Dorset today

Tom Lane

Recently, Tom Lane, Principal Youth Worker at STEPS Club for Young People in Weymouth, spoke to Swanage and Purbeck Labour Party members.

Soul searching

Tom spoke to us about being young and growing up in Britain today. His words prompted much soul searching – for Tom highlighted the challenges faced by our young people which have made so many of them unhappy with their lives. His eloquence was supported by a wealth of evidence, all of it in the public domain.

What the Children’s Society found

The Children’s Society in 2020, for example, concluded that UK children had the second highest levels of sadness of all children in 24 European countries – and ranked lowest for life satisfaction.

No wonder, therefore, that in 2021, The Children’s Society said “(UK) Children’s happiness is in an alarming state of decline. Society is tragically failing our young people”.

Many causes for the unhappiness of UK children

A wide range of factors are at play here – increasing poverty and deprivation, the adverse consequences of austerity, racism, sexism, homophobia, disability, the pressure to do well at school – and, increasingly, the malign influence of digital technology – the measuring of self esteem through likes on social media, with the constant possibility of online grooming, bullying, peer pressure and harassment 24 hours a day.

Detox Evenings

At STEPS, Tom runs Digital Detox Evenings, where young people are encouraged to hand over their phones. As a former headteacher, I well remember the magnetic attraction phones had for my students.

Withering away of Dorset Youth Service

In Dorset, the Youth Service, regarded by many as “the jewel in the crown of Local Authority Services”, has withered away as result of cuts. Dorset Council stopped running all of its 22 Youth Clubs and Centres, and made all Youth Workers redundant.  Many Clubs closed, whilst a few continued, such as STEPS, Wareham Youth Centre and The Centre, in Swanage, run by community groups or charities.

Nationally, since 2009, more than 1,000 Sure Start Centres have closed, 73% of Youth Provision has disappeared and over 1,000 Youth Clubs have closed their doors.

School Cuts

The School Cuts Website, described by the Institute of Fiscal Studies as fairly reporting the facts, notes that 63 out of 150 schools in Dorset are under-funded – a shortfall overall of £4.4m for 2020-21. Nationally, the Website reports, 73% of English school will lose out this year as a result of Government cuts.

Child Poverty

4.1% of children in Dorset aged up to 15, 2,028 in total, were living in Relative Poverty in South Dorset in 2020-21, whilst 10.7%, or 1,551 children, were living in Absolute Poverty. (Figures from the Parliamentary Dashboard, House of Commons Library).

Long waiting lists for help

New NHS figures show a record 420,00 children and young people a month are being treated for mental health problems. There are long waiting lists for Children and Adolescent Mental Health Services. The Bournemouth Echo reported on the case of a teenager who had to wait 316 days for treatment following referral in 2020.

A season for joys?

Being young, said Sir Walter Raleigh, is “the season made for joys”. Any Government worth its salt should remember those words.