The pandemic’s ‘scars’ on young people’s mental health could last ‘for many years to come’ without more frontline support, the shadowy interior secretary has said.
Yvette Cooper said the youngsters had ‘had a really tough few years’ but said she heard from YMCA staff in Birmingham on Thursday that support for some of the most vulnerable service users was ‘just not there for them’ “.
During a visit to the Birmingham Erdington by-election battleground, alongside party pick to retain seat Paulette Hamilton, Ms Cooper claimed services had “been curtailed for many, many years”.
Labor hopes to hold the constituency in the next poll on March 3.
The by-election was called after the death of incumbent Labor MP Jack Dromey last month.
Ms Cooper met staff at the Sutton Coldfield YMCA, including members of the team supporting young carers, who Ms Hamilton described as having done an ‘incredible job’ during the pandemic.
The staff explained how they usually do day trips and youth clubs for young people but that all stopped during the pandemic.
Support worker Siobhan Smith-Inniss said staff needed to come up with new ideas to give their youngsters a little boost, including delivering door-to-door activity packs and movie nights via Zoom, when they also delivered snacks.
They also made daily home visits for their most vulnerable service users, or kept in touch by phone or text.
“It was tough, because day trips are what they like,” Ms Smith-Inniss said.
“Especially with young carers, they don’t want to be on a Zoom call while their mother is in the background.”
She said Covid-19 left young people with “a lot of anxiety” and when the lockdowns were lifted some “didn’t want to come back”.
“Now we also have parents who have had Covid for a long time, and carers who have to look after them.”
Asked if she had seen an increase in government support at this time of ‘great need’, she told Ms Cooper: ‘No, there isn’t.
“During lockdown we were working at full capacity – 12-14 hours a day,” she added.
Ms Cooper, who described the work of staff as ‘heroic’, said young people ‘need the support’ but claimed ‘it’s just not there for them’.
“We’ve heard about the fantastic services the YMCA and others provide, but it’s so overcrowded,” she said.
“It has been reduced for many, many years.
“It means our young people are being abandoned and it affects their mental health, it affects their education, it affects anti-social behavior in the community.
“There are so many different things that have repercussions.
“We’ve heard about the scars young people are going through as a result of the pandemic and if we don’t have that support for them, then those scars will be felt for many, many years to come, and that’s not fair. “
Asked what measures she would like to see the government adopt, Ms Cooper said ‘mental health support for young people and children’, including ‘rapid appointments’ and ‘specialist support in schools’.
She added that if Labor were in power they would “bring the police back to our neighbourhoods”, with so-called community-based neighborhood centres.
“So you actually have this base for police and enforcement officers…and the way we would fund it is that we wouldn’t go ahead with the royal yacht, that neither the (Royal) Navy nor the royals don’t even want to,” she said.