In a nation that is seeing unprecedented pressure on statutory provision and funding, cuts have passed through the fat, flesh and are now well into the muscle of our public services and there is real risk of cutting into the very bones of our society. Sadly some of the services which were achieving a great deal in years gone by have been left with a mere remnant or lost altogether. Youth Services are a good example with many local authorities that have cut back their own services and reduced or stopped funding services operated by the voluntary sector. The challenge is that such provision, whilst appearing merely nice to have in some areas, has a vital role to play in other places helping vulnerable young people to make the transition from childhood to adulthood. The solution seen by some authorities has been to target support to the people and neighbourhoods with the greatest needs. However the problem with such approaches is that the stigma attached to those on the receiving end of targeted support can be counter productive. The other problem with targeted support is that we are not always as good as we think we are at knowing who and what to target and it may take years to ensure that we are aiming in the right places. For these reasons some basic level of universal service is vital, even if it is then enhanced for individuals and groups where the acute need can be identified. It is clear that the Government understands the principles of this, even if they don’t have the integrity to follow it through across all age groups. The way in which the universal support for OAPs has been protected from cuts and even enhanced presents a stark mirror to that of youth services. The voting habit is strong in the over 60’s so it is understandable why this Government has ignored calls to allow votes for 16 and 17 year olds.
The approach that has failed our young people so clearly is now being considered for childrens services. The removal of universal services through children’s centres which even David Cameron wishes to protect in his constituency, is well underway. As a result local Councils and other agencies are being encouraged to target support at families and even individual children whose behaviour is deemed to be a cause for concern. Research recently carried out by the early intervention foundation has suggested that if this targeted support is not provided, society as a whole will pay a very dear price in the next generation. The issues of stigma remain as a toxic element in this strategy. Tragically those who are best placed to even spot the issues that the Early Intervention Foundation has raised are also under huge pressure as the Government pressurises Nurseries and Pre-Schools to do twice as much work for the same level of funding. This should worry all of us, even if toddlers won’t have a vote for at least 15 years.