I hadn’t heard of Youthreach, but until recently they apparently offered a counselling service to young people in Greenwich. Theirs was one of the services whose funding was recently cut as a result of budgetary cutbacks to public services, in response to the UK’s financial crisis.
Jon Ronson spoke to some people who worked there, and some young people who’d used the service before it was shut down. These include teenagers with severe anxiety or mental health issues, and some with a history of suicidal thoughts or attempts.
They would go to Youthreach once a week, talk to someone about what was on their mind, and be offered sympathy and advice. It was something they looked forward to and valued in times of their life when they were experiencing a good deal of unhappiness. They reported things like that it made them feel normal for a change, and like they could function in society.
The annual budget for this centre was £118,000. It closed six months ago.
I don’t know the context of that particular budgeting decision. I have no idea which local councillor or official or group made that call, and what pressures they were under from the various other competing demands of the local community they’re trying to serve in austere times. And I don’t know the people Jon spoke to, their lives or backstories, what’s going on in their world.
But you have to wonder, when the budget of this one Youthreach centre constitutes a little more than 1% of 1% of 1% of the total cuts to public service spending nationwide, how many other similar stories there are out there, and how many other kids with depression or autism or anxiety have had one more valuable lifeline taken away from them.
If encouraging volunteer counsellors and therapists to be available for troubled young people isn’t something we can prioritise, even (perhaps especially) when times are tough and we’re “all in it together”, I just don’t know what the hell we’re doing.