Richard Leaman: The government is blocking small charities working with vulnerable young people

Charities such as mine are unable to do what we were set up to do – when our young people need us the most

Richard Leaman
Richard Leaman

With several bumps in the road, we are gradually unlocking the country after the peak of the pandemic in April. 

Restrictions have been lifted on hairdressers, nail bars, flights, holidays and sporting activities, and yet – almost inexplicably – the government is preventing our most vulnerable and disadvantaged young people from undertaking any residential activities, when they need them most. 

Running counter to the political intent to “level up society”, “unleash potential” and to “become an outward-looking and seafaring nation again” (Boris Johnson’s own words), the government is blocking the small charities that want to empower our most damaged youngsters to fight past Covid, and to become positive contributors to our society again.  

Tall Ships' yachts, and 100 like them, are alongside and empty.

These young people, defined in law, have been attending school since lockdown began because the Department for Education considered they were at lower risk of infection there – mixing and playing together – than they were in their “homes” or on the streets. 

This group of youngsters is now climbing the walls and going feral. Those who care for them are making a noise, but no one is listening.

The ask is simple: for the government guidelines for vulnerable young people to allow for fully risk-assessed residential activities.

The youngsters, already damaged, desperately need activity now, or their predicament – and the socio-economic consequences – will worsen. 

If nothing is done, we will see increased mental illness rates – including suicides – increased youth offending and knife crime, and even more young lives will be damaged.  

This isn’t just about Tall Ships – we are simply one example of the hundreds of small charities trying to help the UK’s most vulnerable young people, who have already been worse-hit by the pandemic than their peers.

The human stakes are so high, it's hard to accept the rhetoric that “the science is leading our decision-making”, especially given the decision to completely ignore the science earlier this year, for this particularly vulnerable group of youngsters, for all the right reasons.  

The human and political consequences of the current policy are unsustainable, and out of all proportion to the perceived risk of relaxing the guidelines.  

And in time, no doubt, more small charities will go under, and simply won't be here when the government decides it needs them again. The consequences are not just political and social – they are financial too.

Richard Leaman is chief executive of the Tall Ships Youth Trust

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