Clubs affected as Tower Hamlets youth services budget quartered in a decade

The outside of the Whitechapel Centre viewed from Myrdle Street.

Newark Youth London is based in the Whitechapel Centre, pictured. - Credit: Google

Drastic cuts to Tower Hamlets youth services have affected the “grassroots development of young people”, says a local youth club hub.

In the last 10 years, Tower Hamlets has experienced a larger reduction to its youth services budget than in any other London borough, from £8.7 million in 2011/2012 down to £2.1 million in 2021/2022.

According to a report by London Assembly Member Sian Berry, Tower Hamlets also witnessed the biggest drop when comparing the current budget to last year’s, with its 2021/2022 pot a sizeable £1.5 million worse off.

Kamrul Islam, manager at Newark Youth London, a youth club hub in Whitechapel, said: “There have been cuts and it obviously means there are less clubs/sports provision open for young people, young people have less places to go and this includes open space near their buildings/estates as all taken by housing.

“The smaller groups who used to work very local level are shut and so we are not seeing grassroots development of young people, volunteering and youth engagement at local level."

On the importance of youth clubs for Tower Hamlets, he said: “They keep young people engaged in the evening and during holiday times. They support young people’s development and keep them away from crime and violence.

“Young people have potential and youth workers [help] young people to follow their dreams”.

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In a recent BBC programme on the subject, Cllr Asma Begum said: “We are in a very dire position.

“Youth provision is not a statutory service, and I think that’s really important to say. A lot of other boroughs have cut their services, there are loads of other boroughs that do not even provide a youth provision.

“Places like Tower Hamlets, we know the importance of youth provision. We’ve got a very young borough, we’ve got high levels of poverty and deprivation in our borough, so we understand that youth provision.”

A spokesperson for Tower Hamlets Council said: “We recognise the importance of keeping youth clubs open, which are vital for supporting young people, and which remains a priority for the council.

"This follows a survey of young people from October to November 2019, which identified the essential nature of youth clubs as safe places for young people to meet, learn and socialise.

“We have recently changed our approach to delivering youth services, which will ensure we continue to meet the changing needs of our young people. This involves delivering a youth service directly from centres with a complementary detached youth service which will work on the streets across the borough.

“The aim is to enhance our offer and make it as broad as possible, not reduce it, through coordinated partnership work with voluntary groups, schools, faith leaders and community organisations.

"By doing this, we are able to offer the best service in the context of financial pressures faced by all local authorities, including Tower Hamlets.”

The council also highlights how the 2021/2022 youth services budget, at £2.1 million, is still roughly double the London boroughs' average, which sits at £1.1 million.

Funding from the mayor of London and Tower Hamlets Local Community Funds furthermore provides an additional £1.1 million to try and support youth activity in the borough.

Youth services across the capital have been hit hard over the last decade.

Last year, Camden was the only borough which reported an increase in funding, and Sutton cut its youth service completely. Waltham Forest Council had already cut its service several years ago.

According to Ms Berry’s report, over £36 million has been cut from the council’s youth service budgets since 2011, a drop of 44 per cent.

An overall total of £240 million is estimated to have not been invested in Londoners by councils due to the reduced budgets.

The measures are also predicted to have led to more than 600 full-time youth worker staff losing their jobs, and youth centres across London being reduced to just 130 from a starting point of 300.

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