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23 March 2011

Young people and staff protest against Connexions closure

Tom Jousselin, Lewisham Socialist Party

With 36% of 16-24 year olds unemployed, Lewisham, South London, has one of the worst youth unemployment rates in the country. Despite this, New Labour Mayor Steve Bullock has decided to completely withdraw funding for Lewisham Connexions - a service that gives advice on everything from unemployment to housing to people aged between 13 and 19.

On the day that Connexions was scheduled to be shut, 30 service users and staff members protested to show opposition to the council's plan. With slogans calling for the unity of workers and students, it gained a lot of attention from passers-by and gave many young people their first experience of action to fight the cuts.

Miriam Brown, a protester and service user, said that she always found the service very useful and had grown very attached to staff members. Shocked at the removal of this service, Miriam sent an reply directly to the mayor of Lewisham, but received only a very brief reply from his personal assistant, showing the disdain that he has for all of us!

The staff have been treated appallingly. One employee explained that they simply have no idea whether or not they will be made redundant.

Connexions workers have not officially been sacked but are instead in a state of limbo. Employees who have been delivering frontline services for over 20 years and are known by young people across the borough for their work may simply not have a job.

If local councils and the government care about the future of young people at all, these services must be kept open. There is also a pressing need for the trade union movement to help young people, through unemployed centres for example, with advice on jobs and to link it to the trade union movement and the wider fight for decent jobs for all.

But the services by themselves will not solve the problem of youth unemployment. Councils and the government should be funding services to create work and keep people off the dole queue.

The government's token gesture of creating 50,000 apprenticeships is far from what's needed to help the 974,000 unemployed young people across the country.

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