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Personal views on current Child and Youth Care affairs

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UK

Jobcentres have been stripped of all compassion for young people

I work as an accommodation and assessment worker for a charity supporting young homeless people as they battle against hardship, and often, unfortunately, the statutory services set up to support them. I’ve been here for just over two years, and a decade ago worked in a similar job, in an emergency access hostel. It’s very apparent that things are more difficult now than they were back then.

Good relationships with jobcentre advisers are scarce nowadays. Previously, they used to accept advice from fellow professionals. Now, it’s not unusual for them to refuse to speak to advocates like me, even if the young person is present and gives consent, and that’s the same for council’s housing departments, too.

Our biggest problem lies with the jobcentre staff’s lack of compassion and flexibility. I guess they have their targets. Our young people have been assessed by the council as priority homeless; they don’t choose to be in a homeless hostel. Many are children in the eyes of the law, and have been mentally, physically and sexually abused, have been bereaved, have learning disabilities and mental health problems.

Yet the jobcentres rarely take such things into consideration. One of our 17-year-old girls applied for dozens of jobs. She wasn’t a so-called benefit scrounger, she was desperate to work and struggling to survive on jobseeker’s allowance, with having to pay rent and live with more than a dozen other young people and their issues.

She went to sign on at 3pm. The adviser said: “You’re two hours late, your appointment was 13.00pm, that’s one o’clock.” The girl apologised. She didn’t understand the 24-hour clock. But she was sanctioned and didn’t receive benefits for six weeks. We got her food parcels from a local charity but you’re only allowed three in six months and she’d already had one. She fell behind in her rent arrears and amassed debts. She became angry and depressed. Can you blame her?

Now the local jobcentre has been closed down to save money, so the nearest one is three miles away, despite there being numerous hostels and halfway houses in the area. It costs £3 return on the train, something our young people can’t afford every single week, which is how often they have to sign on now. And we have young people with disabilities, or afraid to walk the streets due to previous rape, abuse and violence. And so they “jump” the train, sometimes getting fines they can’t afford to pay.

Social services aren’t easy to liaise with either. Referrals are regularly knocked back for 17-year olds – children’s services want us to wait until they’re 18 so they can be taken on by adult services. It’s an age where nobody wants to pick them up, but when young people can be putting themselves or finding themselves in constant risk. Under the Children (Leaving Care) Act, looked after children in education between the ages of 18 and 21 are entitled to financial help. With one young man, we’ve had to fight on an almost weekly basis to ensure he has the money he’s entitled to.

I know statutory services are stretched to breaking point and have been for many years – I left social work in 2002 because of the ridiculous caseload – but increasing austerity and bureaucracy are putting young people at risk.

By Richard Hardwick

9 September 2017 

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