“Childhood” in “Crisis”, edited by Phil Scraton (Letters, 7 August) and published in 1996, has long been considered the definitive reference book on child poverty and the demonisation of young people by academics and youth and community practitioners alike. However, when first released it could not have been predicted that those warnings about austerity measures and social exclusion would prove prescient in terms of young people’s current status in the UK, including their mental health issues and harm-related behaviours (Bed found for suicidal girl after judge’s fury, 5 August).
As a former youth service manager, school governor and manager of a community-based social inclusion project, I have directly observed the impact of those draconian cuts over the past few years, and the decimation of most youth services and young people’s drop-in support provision can be directly linked to the provision of funding for Cameron’s flagship National Citizen Service, leaving thousands of vulnerable young people without year-round support. This government’s drive to privatise public services has enabled profit-driven providers to get rich at the expense of young people in deprived communities. Who could have predicted that, by 2016, so many young people would be dependent on food banks and without hope for their own futures?
Highly qualified and experienced staff have been replaced by unqualified staff, often on zero-hours contracts, with the subsequent decline in both quality and quantity of provision. Many young people are now marginalised and isolated within their own communities; increased risk from harm and exploitation of our young people has not happened overnight, and it can be shown to be directly linked to poorly thought through austerity measures. Perhaps Professor Scraton could now predict the post-Brexit outcomes for our young people as EU grants aimed at promoting social inclusion and meaningful employment are withdrawn?
• Rather predictably, following James Munby’s “blood on our hands” outburst, the NHS “identified a bed” for the suicidal 17-year-old, leaving him to claim, probably correctly, that NHS England would not have acted “as effectively or speedily” without his “outspoken warnings” (Judge’s plea as suicidal teenager is found refuge, 8 August). With new crises being highlighted almost daily, the latest being the closure of maternity wards, and pregnant women being “pushed from pillar to post”, Munby’s example should be followed (Maternity wards closed 400 times as shortage of beds and staff grows, 8 August).
At a time when the “austerity chickens” are coming home to roost, and Labour protests are not always getting the media attention they deserve, he cannot be the only dignitary to be appalled by the current situation. Is it not incumbent upon all judges, archbishops, lords, and even some “celebrities”, to make their voices heard? If the “brand” is indeed to be “reinvented”, royals also could be doing more than “championing mental-health charities” (The royals, a brand reinvented by the millennial generation, 5 August).
It is not only our MPs who should be feeling embarrassed by the huge inequality and unfairness that has been allowed to pervade society in the fifth-richest country in the world.
• Professor Marmot finds it difficult to link the increases in mortality to changes in government policy (North-south divide’s toll on young adults, 8 August). It might be easier to link those increases to governments’ negligence. They have allowed the single adult jobseeker’s allowance to rot on the vine, from 1979 when it was 21% of average earnings, to 2008 when it had fallen to 10.5% of average earnings. Increases were frozen at 1% in 2011; since 2013, during the rollout of universal credit, it has remained unchanged at £73.10 a week, or £57.90 a week for the under-25s. Then it can be stopped for several months by a zero-hours contract or a benefit sanction. Since 2013 it has had to pay rent and council tax.
It is governmental negligence when the poorest young citizens do not have enough money to heat a home or buy a healthy balanced diet. Universities report time and time again that cold homes increase rates of respiratory disease, cardiovascular disease, excess winter deaths and mental illness. Inadequate diets increase the risk of malnutrition, obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Debt with insufficient income impacts on health indirectly through increased stress, depression and anxiety, and suboptimal coping behaviours – such as increased rates of smoking and drinking.
After the crash in 2008, the Queen asked: “Why did no one see it coming?” Ten years later, she might well ask the same question about the rise of early deaths among young people.
Rev Paul Nicolson
Taxpayers Against Poverty
• I hope David Gauke will respond positively to the letter from Laura Pidcock MP and her parliamentary colleagues (7 August). But I hope he will go further, as it’s not enough to pause the rollout of universal credit without also addressing the causes of the six- to seven- week wait for the first UC payment.
First, he should abolish the seven-day waiting period before entitlement starts. Even Lord Freud, one of UC’s architects, now accepts it should be dropped. Second, he should look again at the decision to move from a fortnightly to a monthly benefit. This ideologically motivated change was designed to alter behaviour on the grounds that it would prepare claimants better for paid work. Yet the government’s own figures show that many low-paid workers are paid more frequently than that. Not only do monthly payments create the initial problems highlighted in the MPs’ letter, they also create unnecessary difficulties for those – typically mothers – who just about get by when budgeting weekly or fortnightly. The seven-day waiting period and monthly benefits policies create avoidable hardship, thereby undermining confidence in UC. A new broom at the Department for Work and Pensions should use the opportunity to think again.
Labour, House of Lords
• Polly Toynbee is right, Sure Start centres provided support and hope for families living in dire poverty and the deprivation that brings to their children (The end of child poverty? Not with the Tories in power, 8 August). I cannot understand how our society allows the ruling class to turn back the clock on those in poverty to the dark days of the TV series Poldark. There are those who can sit cosily watching this programme on Sunday evenings, thinking it historical. Yet there are many Warleggans in the Tory party sitting in parliament right now.
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