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Despite the economy growing, when it comes to cuts it appears we’re still in the midst of the deepest recession since the 1930s. With George Osborne announcing that more cuts are on the way, it is third sector organisations that take the first hit. Over the next twelve months it’s predicted the sector will lose another £110m in local authority funding.
From my own personal experience of chairing an LGBT charity that offers services for young people in Milton Keynes, I know that LGBT services are often cut first. Primarily they are overlooked by local councils due to a lack of understanding of what the outcomes of these services really are. It is services that are set up to support young LGBT people that local councils fail to differentiate between other youth networks. The plain fact of the matter is that whether we like to admit it to our ourselves or not young gay, bisexual, lesbian and trans folk are often more vulnerable than their straight counterparts.
This week the findings of the biggest social research study into young LGBT people undertaken in England have been published by the Youth Chances Project, and they highlight exactly why provisions for young LGBT people are so vital. The project, led by the charity Metro, involved interviews with more than 7,000 16- to 25-year-olds. They were asked about their experiences of education, employment and health services. Headline stats from the report include the hard hitting fact that half of young gay people have suffered mental health issues and around 50 per cent have self-harmed.
It isn’t just funding for the likes of youth support groups whose budgets are being lost. Across the UK outreach projects such as training schemes that help professionals such as teachers understand how to deal with LGBT issues are also being cut. The survey also found that one in five pupils who identified as LGBT reported being on the receiving end of physical attacks at school, but the majority did not report them and only a small proportion of those who did felt that their concerns were dealt with appropriately.
The youth group run by the charity of which I chair engages with users from the age of thirteen. By this age most young people are already sure or at least questioning their sexuality or gender identity. Often there is no one placed in schools equipped to deal with the conversations that go with these emotions, and certainly parents are the hardest to tell. Jo is a user of the youth group in Milton Keynes and explains: “At school, there’s nowhere to hide from the comments others make and there’s no one who understands how I feel. The [youth] group is a safe haven where I can be with people like me, who go through the same anxious feelings, and have access to people who can help me deal with my emotions.”
It’s not just about young LGBT people being deprived of support both in and out of education however. Many interviewed said they experienced feelings of suicide. 42 per cent had sought medical help for anxiety or depression and 40 per cent had contemplated and in many cases attempted suicide. So what is the impact on our wider society of cutting funding to LGBT services? Each time an ambulance is called out in the UK it costs an average of £250, if the 40% of 16 – 25 year old folk had access to LGBT support networks, there would be a phenomenal amount of NHS money saved. It’s not all about the money though, these groups save lives, Alex another user of the Milton Keynes youth group told me “If it wasn’t for a friend pointing me in the direction of the group, I would have jumped from a road bridge after an argument with my parents, the support I received from the group helped me rationalise my thoughts and learn that I am not alone.”
With councils continuing to make annual cuts to youth provisions it is hard to see where young people will get the support they need, at a time so crucial to their self-discovery and growing up. So, I’ll be blunt, we face a crisis of LGBT teenagers and young adults suffering from bullying in schools leading to self-harm, to suicide attempts and without vital funding, there is only so much voluntary organisations can do to fight it and help save a generation.